Readers say IE's market-share numbers depend on how, and what, you count

Our "Browser Smackdown" story sure got readers going. Some were particularly incensed over writer Preston Gralla's assertion at the end of the IE piece: "Just look at the numbers -- and numbers don't lie. Internet Explorer has more than 80% of the market, and that won't change anytime soon. People are smart enough to download competing browsers if they're not happy with IE. The evidence shows that they've been happy."

Some readers beg to differ. Below are some of their comments, which have been edited for grammar. Readers' initials have been used in place of full names when we didn't receive permission to use full names.

You can join the discussion by responding to the Sound Off blog or sending an e-mail to editor@computerworld.com.

Editor's note: Additional reader comments were added at 8:15 PM on Monday, Dec. 11. The new comments appear on pages 2, 3 and 4, and another response from Preston Gralla is on page 5, below.

Bogus

If Firefox came preloaded on every Windows PC and IE had to be downloaded, then Firefox would have 95% market share. Claiming IE has 80% market share because it's the "choice" of users is totally bogus!

-- Wes Crabtree

No-mess browser

Numbers in the case of MS are indicative of the fact that the average user does not want to mess with installing a new browser. That does not equate to superiority. The reason MSIE (not MSIE7) has the alleged 80% to 85% market share is because it is packaged. MSIE7 may be superior. But numbers are not indicative of that. If they were, then IE6 was superior to Firefox. For the purposes you are trying to serve, NUMBERS LIE!

-- David Eldridge

'It's the Internet'

Far too many less-than-tech-savvy people use [IE] because they think "it's the Internet" and aren't aware of anything else. That's why Netscape lost the "browser war."

-- Charles Gaefke

IE6 is really ahead

Many enterprises are holding off on any switches to IE7, due to compatibility problems, so IE7 doesn't have 80% of the market. It may only have 40%. The rest belongs to IE6, until many Web forms and Web apps are updated to be compatible to IE7. I believe IE7 is better, but you can't stop work, so IE6 is forced on users.

-- Dan Pearson

Wooden IT mandates

In light of feature/usability emphasis and your reviewer's clumsy reliance on market-share commonplaces, is it too obvious to mention wooden corporate IT mandates and overall Windows market entropy for IE share (any version)?

-- W.S.M

Preston Gralla responds: Those who disagree that numbers don't lie when it comes to browser popularity seem to have one common belief --- that average users aren't smart enough to download another browser if they want. That's where I part company with them. People are far savvier than they're given credit for; they're intelligent enough to find and install free software, especially when that free software gets an enormous amount of publicity, such as Firefox has gotten. If people aren't happy with Internet Explorer, they can easily use another browser without having to pay a penny. The fact that they've chosen not to shows that they're more than satisfied with IE.

Basic skills

You seem to believe all users are like you and your peers, willing and able to install and remove software on their computers at will. A great many people cannot do so reliably, or decline to even try because they are not tech-savvy enough or believe they are not. Evidently you are unaware such users exist, or simply write them off as non-persons. Wake up, folks; it's a big, complex world out there. Microsoft's built-in distribution monopoly is still very, very effective, and there are still millions and millions of users who possess only basic computer skills.

-- Heinz Hemken

Unaware

I will . . . bet that the majority [of people] are not even aware of Firefox or, if they are, they are not willing to spend the time/risk switching. I know hundreds (literally) of computer users and, of those, only two have switched to Firefox. Yet, when I query them about the security, performance and reliability of IE compared to Firefox, they are quite surprised. The majority are not even aware of the security risks of IE! While they then express a desire to switch, they are still not willing to take the risk or spend the time even when I offer to do it for them. Many state that they do not have the time and/or desire to learn how to use the Internet all over again.

-- Mark Smith

Can't switch

Many corporate users do not have sufficient rights to install software even if they want to.

-- JP

Inertia, etc.

For those that are aware of their options, some are too lazy to make the change, don't know how to change browsers, think they can't change since IE came with the computer or would like to change but are afraid to try something new. There are other reasons, but those are just some of the ones that I have heard from people I've talked to.

-- Bill Fleming

One or two?

I have both IE and Firefox installed on my computers at home and work. Firefox is my default browser, not IE. The ONLY reason I keep IE6(7) on my machine is to handle the Web sites that are so retarded they will function properly only when using IE6(7) which, unfortunately, because of tight IT budgets and impossible project deadlines, is far too many. It is definitely NOT because I am more than satisfied with IE6(7).

-- Don Green

How are you counting?

What metric is Gralla using to push his claims of 80% use for IE7? I accidentally downloaded IE while doing an upgrade and I had no intention of using it but now I am stuck with it. I downloaded Firefox 2 and I find it much better overall. Gralla, show me the numbers and how you got them.

-- BW

Smart but not geeks

I'd really like to know what offices Preston Gralla has worked in. I've built networks and supported computers for over 20 years for employers like the Pima County Attorney's Office, Tucson Medical Center, and Pima Community College, not to mention helped dozens of friends and family over the years. Most of the people I've worked with are smart people (like my retired college professor father), but they're not computer geeks like Preston probably is. They use what comes on the computer unless the product just doesn't work. By the way, since I'm pretty computer literate and I do make choices, I've steered both my sons to Apple laptops. They're very bright, reasonably computer literate people who want to get their work done (real work, not computer futzing). They tend to use the Safari that comes on the Apples . . .

-- Ross Zimmerman

Under the hood

Browsers are a lot like cars. Some people just put gas in them and drive; they couldn't care what color it was, what engine was in it, or what its tow capacity may be. Others, auto-nuts, know all these specifics. Unless you're a car nut, you wouldn't know what engine (or browser) is under your hood, or even care. As a result, the numbers are, truly, almost meaningless.

-- J. T. Pedersen

IT = IE

I use FireFox at home, but at work the morons in the IT department write so much MS-centric stuff that I probably couldn't use anything but IE, even if it weren't a violation of company policy to do so.

-- Bob Scheidegger

Measuring browser usage

I have seen reports from relatively tech-oriented sites (twit.tv, digg, extremetech) and their tracking shows 80% or more of users with Firefox/Mozilla. This supports the fact that the more tech-savvy audience (likely audience for those sites) picks that browser. My own non-tech (art related) site (maletic.org) shows traffic of approximately 75% Mozilla/Firefox visitors vs. slightly less than 25% IE. I can say something only about my own audience, not the web in total. Finally, I am sure that the Apple site does not see much IE traffic (for obvious reasons) and that MS site does not see much Firefox visitors. You simply can't properly measure browser usage in general. You can do it only for select narrow audiences.

-- Dusan Maletic

Unsupported

I believe the biggest reason that Mac, Firefox, LINUX and others are not as widespread as they deserve to be is that many software suppliers do not support them as interfaces to library holdings, administrative ERPs, etc. Please note that I did not say that they don't work, but if you have a problem, you are on your own. This can be a real show stopper as . . . very few of us can afford the time to wrestle intricate software problems to conclusion. Unfortunately if it don't work out of the box, it usually don't work here.

-- Ian Simpson

Corporate policies

I run Firefox on my laptop and my desktop at home. Unfortunately, when I was doing contract work for Northrop Grumman and wanted to run Firefox, the IT people would not allow it. They have a "standard" browser and you can use it, or not browse. If Mr. Gralla thinks that this is an unusual situation in the corporate world, he's quite naive. And think about how much of the "market share" is represented by large corporations with similar foolish policies.

-- Rand Simberg

Opera underrepresented

I think that Opera's numbers have been grossly miscalculated. Opera has this incredibly handy feature that allows it to identify itself as Internet Explorer (for those sites that are so rude as to ban any other browser). So all Opera users that have that option set are getting counted as IE users.

-- Darrin Auxier

Preston Gralla responds: No doubt a certain portion of Internet Explorer's overall success has to do with corporate policies, or with people not knowing how to install software. But more than 80% worth? Certainly not. People are far more intelligent than they're given credit for. The best example of this is Google. The majority of PCs that ship today include MSN as their default search, yet Google is by far the most popular search engine on the planet, while MSN Search doesn't even register as a blip on the radar. Why? Because people were smart enough to find out that Google is a great search engine, while MSN Search is, to put it mildly, dismal. Google is so far superior that people have naturally found it. Remember, Google started as a gleam in two graduate students' eyes, while MSN Search had the marketing muscle of the biggest software company on earth. Google succeeded because it was a clearly superior product; all the money in the world --- and being the default search engine on most PCs --- couldn't buy success for MSN Search.

People haven't switched from Internet Explorer to Firefox for a simple reason: It's not a superior browser. If Firefox was so much of a better browser, people would have found it and switched to it, in the same way that people switched to Google from MSN Search. But people haven't switched, because they're satisfied with Internet Explorer. When it comes to search engines, the numbers don't lie, and the same holds true when it comes to browsers.

Copyright © 2006 IDG Communications, Inc.

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