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Firefox on track to crack 20% share in July

Firefox, Safari, Opera gain in May; IE drops more than one percentage point

June 2, 2008 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox browser is on pace to hit the 20% market-share mark next month, a Web metrics company said today.

Firefox boosted its share by 0.6% in May, accounting for 18.4% of the browsers used during the month and putting it within shouting distance of a major milestone, according to Net Applications Inc. "Firefox is trending to hit 20% market share sometime in July," said Vince Vizzaccaro, the company's executive vice president of marketing, in an e-mail.

Net Applications' May figure represents a record for the open-source browser, which resumed gains that had been interrupted in April when its share dropped slightly. The one-month increase was also the largest by Firefox since March 2007.

"Firefox is surging again, but their gains when reviewed over time aren't out of the ordinary," said Vizzaccaro. "Other than the stagnation Firefox experienced in mid-2007, their growth has been fairly consistent."

Vizzaccaro was referring to several months last summer when Mozilla's flagship browser slipped in market share, including May 2007 (down 0.9% from the previous month) and July (down 0.2%).

Although Vizzaccaro didn't pin all of Firefox's increase on a change last month to its update dialog, he did note the new approach. "Mozilla has implemented a change in Firefox 3.0 [Release Candidate 1] where the installation now has a checkbox that defaults to making Firefox your default browser," he explained.

Vizzaccaro refused to ding Mozilla for the practice. "The option is clearly displayed and labeled, unlike Safari, which misleadingly labeled the Safari install as an 'update' [but has] since correctly changed to an 'install.' However, this practice is a break from the traditional practice browsers employed of defaulting this option to off."

In March, Apple Inc. began using its Software Update tool — which is packaged with its Windows software, including the popular iTunes — to push out Safari 3.1 for Windows. Initially, Apple offered its browser to anyone who ran Software Update, whether or not Safari was already installed on the PC. That practice drew the ire of, among others, Mozilla's CEO, John Lilly. Several weeks later, as Vizzaccaro mentioned, Apple modified its Windows update tool to separate new installations — such as the Safari 3.1 offer — from traditional updates.

Firefox 3.0, which Mozilla is still shooting to deliver this month, showed a 0.2% increase in May. Also grabbing more market share last month were Apple's Safari, up 0.5% to 6.3%, and Opera Software's Opera, up 0.02% to 0.7%.

Those gains, as in the past, came at the expense of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer, which dropped more than a percentage point in market share during May, to 73.8%. Two years ago, IE accounted for 84.1% of all browsers used to access sites operated by Net Applications' customers.

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