Partner Advocate

Watching the Foundations

Microsoft is losing market share on a few franchise products almost as aggressively as it gained that share in the 1990s.

Some alarming numbers came from Aliso Viejo, Calif.-based Net Applications in early January. The firm, which has tracked operating system and browser share for the last several years, reported record drops in Microsoft's share of both client operating systems and Web browsers. Net Applications gets its numbers by tracking software used to visit thousands of Web sites that the company monitors for clients.

Windows lost nearly a full percentage point of market share in December. It marked the second consecutive month of a percentage point loss in share. Windows market share dropped below 90 percent in November for the first time since Net Applications has been tracking operating system use. In December, Windows wound up at -- or should I say wound down to -- 88.7 percent. Apple grew share at Microsoft's expense. Apple Mac OS X ended December at 9.6 percent share. That was the first time it finished greater than 9 percent.

On the browser side, the story is similar, but uglier. Internet Explorer ended 2008 down 10 percentage points for the year, while Firefox was up 27 percentage points and Safari was up 42 percentage points. Firefox finished the year at 21.3 percent. Safari wound up at 7.9 percent. In December, the Google Chrome browser finished greater than 1 percent for the first time. IE ended December with a 68.2 percent share.

I've heard a lot of the explanations. The most compelling is that in a holiday period non-Microsoft OS and browser usage shoots up because people are conducting more Internet activity from home computers, where Apple does better. Microsoft still largely owns the corporate market. That line of reasoning doesn't account for Microsoft's year-to-year losses, though.

Here's the other thing, and I'm far from the first to make this observation. You used to only see creative types and students using Apple computers in public. But over the last few years, a lot more straight-laced business types seem to be carting around Apple laptops as well.

Microsoft needs to get out in front of these market share slides -- and fast. The unmaking of a technology empire tends to follow a pattern. User bases are stable as a few early adopters try out different things. But when the mass of users decides to abandon one technology for another, the defection is nauseously quick.

Microsoft's server-related channel business is dependent on the dominance of the Windows client. Maybe Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8 are the versions that will once again lock in the base. All I'm saying is that somebody ought to be running around in Redmond like his hair is on fire. Because the foundation of this empire, upon which a lot of channel partner business is built, is in serious danger of crumbling.

About the Author

Scott Bekker is editor in chief of Redmond Channel Partner magazine.