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Has IE 7 turned back Firefox?

Microsoft's browser has either put the brakes on Firefox's growth, or given it a push

March 29, 2007 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Firefox's success in chipping away at Internet Explorer's majority Web browser market share has slowed since Microsoft Corp. began pushing the new IE7 as an automatic update to Windows users last year, a management consulting firm said yesterday.

But a Web metrics company immediately disputed the conclusion, saying that IE7's introduction has helped -- not hurt -- Firefox.

According to Janco Associates, which tracked users to several Web servers that the Nevada-based company manages, Firefox's growth rate has stalled since December 2006, when Microsoft started automatically issuing IE7 to Windows users. "We've started to see a stabilization of the marketplace," said Victor Janulaitis, Janco's CEO. "In three years, IE lost about 15% of the market share, but we're now seeing that leveling off."

From December 2006 to this month, Firefox's share increased less than a percentage point, from 12.5% to 13.4%. Meanwhile, IE's overall share climbed to 70.5% in March from December's 67.5%. In particular, IE7's share almost tripled from the beginning of December by March 1, climbing from 6.9% to 18.7%.

Firefox's stall, said Janulaitis, meant that it and other IE rivals won't be able to overtake Microsoft's browser "without some major new innovation or driver."

Poppycock, said Geoff Johnston, an analyst at WebSideStory Inc. in San Diego. "I'm surprised at how well Firefox has done since IE7 came out," he said. "It looks like the forced migration of IE7 is helping Firefox."

By WebSideStory's figures, Firefox accounted for 13.7% of the U.S. browser usage share as of last Friday. IE, meanwhile, owned just under 82%. During the December-March period, Firefox actually grew its share by more than 2.5%, while IE's share has been clipped by more than 3%.

Although Microsoft released IE7 to Windows XP users in October 2006, the company did not start feeding the updated browser to users via Automatic Updates until early December. At the time, there was significant criticism of Microsoft for using the update service, which is typically reserved for security patches, not program upgrades.

"IE7 has almost 31% of the whole browser market," said Johnston, "but its growth has been almost exclusively at the expense of IE6. IE7 has not slowed the pace of either Firefox or Safari. Microsoft's getting it from both those two fronts."

Janulaitis stood by his data. "It's very solid. We've used the same methodology since 1997," he said. And he stood by his conclusion. "IE7 has features that negate the advantages that Firefox had. It may continue to lose share, but I think it will stabilize around the 60% to 65% mark.

Johnston's not so sure. "If you're Mozilla, you have to be happy with these numbers. That's the big news: that Firefox was able to stand up to IE7. It says the world's changed a little."

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