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by Mike Zazaian October 10, 2006 - 6:08pm, 1 Comment

Firefox Continues to Gain on IE

Recently released browser usage statistics show that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 6 continues to lose ground to Mozilla’s Firefox, but will the release of IE 7 be enough to stop the bleeding?

Since Mozilla released Firefox 1.0 on November 9th, 2004, Internet Explorer has steadily lost market share each month. Statistics for browser usage this past September show that Internet Explorer is unlikely to get good news any time soon. Its 82.10 percent market share last month represent a 4 percent loss over the past year, the worst figures it’s had since the age-old Netscape-IE wars.

Firefox continues on an upswing, however, claiming 12.46 percent in September. Up from just 7.55 percent a year ago, Firefox’s numbers last month mark the widest usage the browser has seen to date. Safari is also climbing, up to 3.53 percent market share from only 2.39 a year ago, an increase of nearly 50 percent over the last 12 months.

And while its 82.10 still solidifies Internet Explorer as the undisputed browser champion, Microsoft has nobody to blame but themselves for their continuous loss of users. The release of Internet Explorer 6 all but signed the death warrant for competitor Netscape. Assuming that IE 6 would remain the gold standard for eternity, Microsoft left IE 6 unchanged for a number of years, even amidst a rapidly changing web development climate.

But as the needs of users changed with the coming of new web technologies Microsoft failed to adapt. Browsers such as Opera and the IE-facsimile Maxthon showed the promise of tabbed browsing, but Microsoft was too distracted with other matters to notice. And as security issues mounted with Internet Explorer 6 Microsoft added virtually no security features, and continued to be plagued by the largest number of flaws amongst all major browsers. Granted, Firefox claimed the security-flaw crown for the last six-month period, but its track record of fixing known flaws inside of a day is far less daunting than Microsoft’s slovenly tendencies to take up to or over a month to repair a single known hole.

Then was born Firefox, the be-all end-all of browsers. With stability, speed, and expandability, Firefox 1.0 truly represented the next generation of browsing. But even as Firefox began to gain ground Microsoft was too enormous to care. Internet explorer in the meantime fell to a miserable 53 percent compliance with web programming standards, nearly half of the compliance of Firefox or Mozilla, both of which loom in the mid-nineties. It wasn’t until Firefox claimed a staggering 5 percent of market share that Microsoft formed plans for a more Firefox-like IE 7. By then the Firefox community had become so thoroughly infiltrated with the web’s technorati, however that any browser that Microsoft could release would fail to put out the flame of the Firefox’s tail.

That said, Internet Explorer, in some incarnation, will continue to be the world’s most popular browser as long as Windows remains king. As good as Firefox can get, or as big of a community as it boasts, it will never be able to overcome the handicap of not coming pre-installed on the world’s best-selling OS. Firefox will likely continue to gain ground on IE, but with a bevy of new features IE 7 should slow Firefox’s progress over the coming year. It remains to be seen exactly what the growth potential of Firefox is, but that number should be limited to a number just slightly larger than the percentage of web users that are at least moderately tech savvy. For my money Firefox has gotten pretty close to that number, and with the features offered by IE 7 internet users shouldn’t be driven into the arms of opposing software as was the case with IE 6.

Granted, IE 7 still has a number of standards compliance issues, and will never have the same level of extensions or themes that Firefox has, but that’s not Microsoft’s goal. Unlike Mozilla, Microsoft has a whole heap more to focus on than its flagship browser. Bill Gates just needs IE 7 to be adequate, not spectacular. As long as adequacy is maintained IE 7’s mass distribution will be enough to keep it several heads above the rest, despite how unfortunate that may be for the many that will never discover Firefox, Opera or other software that might better suit their needs.

[via ars technica]