Firefox Registers Usage Gains, Though IE Remains Dominant

The open-source Firefox Web browser may be making inroads on Internet Explorer with some users, but Microsoft Corp.'s software continues to command a dominant share of the browser market.

Statistics released by WebSideStory Inc., a Web analytics software vendor that tracks browser usage, showed that last Monday, 92.5% of the users hitting the thousands of U.S.-based Web sites it monitors were running Internet Explorer. Only 3.7% were using Firefox, according to WebSideStory.

But the reason Firefox is creating such a stir is that its emergence coincided with the first downward turn in Internet Explorer's market share since WebSideStory began keeping browser statistics in 1998, said Geoff Johnston, an analyst at the San Diego-based firm.

Johnston said the gradual drop in IE usage began on June 4. That day, IE accounted for 95.5% of users and the various Mozilla and Netscape browsers had a combined total of 3.5%. Firefox wasn't tracked separately at that point, so its usage would have been included in the Mozilla/Netscape number.

On Nov. 19, IE stood at 92.4%, with Firefox counted separately at 3.6% and the other Mozilla and Netscape variants at 3.0%. Both June 4 and Nov. 19 were Fridays, and Johnston said it's important to compare statistics gathered on the same day of the week.

He noted that use of Firefox is higher on weekends than it is during the week. For example, on Sunday, Nov. 21, IE stood at 90.8% and Firefox at 4.5%, Johnston said. Those numbers illustrate the fact that IE is used in the workplace more than Firefox is, he added.

Even though the percentage of Web surfers using Firefox is still small, the shift of some users to the new browser is noteworthy, Johnston said. "And in fact, this month it looks like the trend is slightly increasing. That's shocking news. No one has ever taken any market share from Microsoft."

Netscape Communications Corp., which held a commanding lead in the browser market until Microsoft began bundling IE with Windows, turned its browser software over to the open-source community in 1998. Initially, the Mozilla Project carried on the development work, releasing its first browser about three years later. To expand the group's development capabilities, the Mozilla Foundation was formed in 2003 with $2 million in start-up funding., an Amsterdam-based Web analytics software vendor, last week reported that Mozilla's browsers held a 7.35% share of global usage, with Firefox accounting for 4.58%. The company said that IE had a usage share of 88.90% -- 5% less than at the end of May.

Chris Hoffman, director of engineering at the not-for-profit Mozilla Foundation, said last Tuesday that there had been 5.7 million downloads of Firefox since its release earlier this month. "We're just trying to keep the increases in market share we've seen in the last few months -- one to two percent every couple of months," Hoffman said. "Our goal is just to keep that on track."

The companies that have shown interest in Firefox tend to be Netscape's old enterprise customers, according to Hoffman. He said he knows of several that had been waiting for Firefox 1.0 to ship because they were leery of using a prerelease copy of the software.

John Pescatore, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said corporate users can avoid most spyware downloads and many security attacks if they use Firefox instead of IE. "But it will make economic sense for very few enterprises," he added. Most large companies will find they have at least one internal application that won't work without IE, Pescatore said.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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