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Firefox Gradually Gaining Against IE

All of the noise and attention surrounding the release last month of Firefox 1.5 appears to have helped the alternative Web browser’s market share, even if those gains are still only in fractions of percentage points.

“November 2005 browser numbers indicate that Firefox continues to gain market share, reaching 8.84 percent,” says the latest monthly traffic report released Wednesday by Web metrics tool vendor Net Applications. Numbers for Internet Explorer slipped by nearly half a point during the month to 86.08 percent, the company says.

Despite month-to-month fluctuations, Firefox has been on a slow but steady climb in gaining market share at Internet Explorer's expense since Firefox was first released (other than as a beta) slightly more than a year ago. Interest in Firefox jumped again this fall, as the Mozilla Foundation’s developers readied version 1.5 for release on Nov. 29.

Other firms that monitor browser usage also are seeing Firefox steadily gain popularity versus IE. Amsterdam-based Web analytics firm OneStat.com’s latest report, dated November 2, gives IE 85.45 percent while giving Firefox 11.41 percent.

“The total usage share of Mozilla increased 2.82 percent since April 2005 [while] Microsoft's Internet Explorer still dominates the global browser market with a global usage share . . . which is 1.18 percent less [today] as at the end of April,” according to OneStat.com’s report. Although differences in the firms’ reporting and analysis techniques result in significantly different numbers, the trend lines agree.

“In November 2005, browser usage numbers revealed that Mozilla's new Firefox 1.5 browser sparked new user adoption, putting it back on track to reach the critical 10 percent market threshold,” reads yesterday’s report by Aliso Viejo, California-based Net Applications.

For Microsoft, this must be particularly galling since the next revision of IE – dubbed 7.0 – will not reach the second beta test stage until the first quarter of 2006. (See “New Beta of IE7 for XP Coming in Q1,” Dec. 7.) That gives Firefox six months to a year to lure even more of Microsoft’s IE user base before the Redmond firm strikes back.

With new IE development having been virtually moribund for years, the opportunity has been ripe for Firefox, and other browsers like Safari, Netscape and Opera, to finally make a serious impression on users who are bored and frustrated with IE and Microsoft’s neglect of it. That frustration was running high by the time Firefox 1.0 came out.

By March 2005, Microsoft’s global market share had slipped below 90 percent for the first time, according to two major Web traffic surveys, in large part due to the release of Firefox 1.0 six months previously. (See, “IE Usage Falls Below 90 Percent in Both Major Surveys,” March 2.)

By Oct. 19, six weeks before Firefox 1.5’s official release, the Mozilla Foundation also reported it had recorded 100 million cumulative downloads of various versions of the browser since its first formal release a year earlier.

Firefox 1.5 adds automated update features to simplify product upgrades as well as drag-and-drop reordering for browser tabs, and improvements to the browser’s popup blocking capabilities. Among other features, Microsoft will add tabbed browsing in IE 7.

About the Author

Stuart J. Johnston has covered technology, especially Microsoft, since February 1988 for InfoWorld, Computerworld, Information Week, and PC World, as well as for Enterprise Developer, XML & Web Services, and .NET magazines.

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