New Browser Data Holds Mixed Bag for Internet Explorer

Microsoft, I have good news, and I have bad news. Which would you like to hear first? The latest browser market share data has a lot for Microsoft to celebrate, but also some concerning trends that Microsoft should pay attention to.

At the beginning of each month new data is released reflecting the browser usage and market share for the previous month. Viewing just the previous month up close often seems like a silly exercise. One browser goes up a fraction of a percent, and another goes down a fraction of a percent. Really? We're counting fractions of a percent?

Internet Explorer continues to lead all rivals, but IE as a whole continues to decline.
However, when you step back and look at the larger historical picture, and track the trend lines over the course of months, or the past year, those fractions of a percent start adding up to something--something significant for some browsers.

Consider the latest browser data stats. Taking the browser brands as a whole, Internet Explorer is down just over one percent from the previous month, and continues its trend of slow decline. Firefox, the second place browser, drops slightly but has remained relatively flat-lined for the last year. Meanwhile, Chrome, Safari, and Opera all show increases.

The overall trend is concerning for Microsoft. Once upon a time, Internet Explorer had near-monopoly dominance with over 90 percent market share, and that has been whittled down over time to a mere 56 percent. But, there are a few silver linings to be found for Microsoft if you dig a little and look at the details behind the trend some.

The Microsoft Exploring IE blog explains, "Internet Explorer 8 also continued its rise in January with 1.18 percent growth according to Net Applications--over one and a half times of the growth of Chrome (0.72 percent). With 34.79 percent of users worldwide, Internet Explorer 8 remains the most popular and fastest growing browser in the market."

I don't know if it is an accident, or an intentional statistical sleight of hand, but it is worth pointing out that Microsoft is mixing stats in its comparison. Yes, IE8 did go up 34.79 percent. And, yes, Chrome as a whole went up only 0.72 percent. However, that is comparing a specific version to an entire browser. The reality is that on a version basis Chrome 8.0 had the largest increase with just over two percent.

That doesn't change the premise of the statement in the blog, though. Internet Explorer 8 is by far the leading browser by version--almost double the share of the second place Firefox 3.6--and it continues to climb consistently, if not very steeply, away from the competition. That is definitely good news for Microsoft.

It is also good news for Microsoft that Internet Explorer 9--which is still in beta right now, but may officially launch soon--is capturing market share. The Microsoft blog states, "IE9 has been downloaded over 23 million times, and now accounts for 0.5 percent of all users worldwide while still a beta product."

The one piece of news that is somewhat a double-edged sword for Microsoft is the decline of IE6. Microsoft has been pushing for customers to abandon the archaic browser in favor of more modern Web browsers. Apparently customers are doing so, but based on the general browser share trends many of those customers are opting to adopt more modern versions of browsers other than Internet Explorer.

The combined fall of IE6 and IE7 is almost a percent more than the increase in IE8 share, which is why Internet Explorer as a whole continues to drop. So--good news: IE8 is the leading browser and continues to gain momentum, and customers are dropping IE6. Bad news: customers dropping IE6 seem to be switching to Chrome and causing the overall market share for Internet Explorer to fall.

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