Use of the Internet Explorer browser continues to fall as rivals such as Firefox gain converts, but the release of IE7 may help Microsoft wrest back some of its lost market share, according to a new report.
The share of total browser use attributed to Internet Explorer fell in October to 81.3 percent, down from 82.1 percent in September,Net Applications said.
Along with other tracking firms, Net Applications has been observing a steady erosion of IE use for some 18 months, with a rash of viruses and other security concerns encouraging the adoption of alternatives — including the open source Firefox browser, which is produced by the Mozilla Foundation, and Apple’s Safari.
Microsoft hopes Internet Explorer 7, released early last month, can turn the tide. The upgrade has received largely positive feedback and reviews, with the browser duplicating some of the features that have contributed to Firefox’s popularity.
Microsoft can take some solace in the fact that the debut of Firefox 2.0, which became widely available on Oct. 24, seemed to do little to spur additional use of that browser. Firefox use accounted for 13 percent of Web visits during October, up just slightly from 12.5 percent in September.
Stopping the Slide
Most observers believe the browser market is forever altered and that it’s unlikely Microsoft will ever see the same level of market share dominance that it saw when Internet Explorer use topped 90 percent.
Still, the company hopes IE7 can at least stem the tide and help it start to regain some of the lost market share. Browser usage is important for a number of reasons, including the built-in search functionality that many now include, which drives traffic to search engines — in the case of Microsoft, to its own Windows Live Search.
Microsoft may see more of a boost for IE7 when the consumer version of Windows Vista is released, something set to happen early next year. IE7 will be bundled with Vista and feature tighter integration into other desktop applications.
IE7 will see huge gains in use in coming months, predicts Internet usage analysis firm WebSideStory, with adoption rates likely to outpace previous IE releases.
Firefox is not likely to suffer much, however, even after IE7 gains wide adoption, said Chief Marketing Officer Rand Schulman. “Once a favorite browser gets installed, it’s difficult to replace,” he noted. “Firefox appears to have become the browser of choice for about 10 percent of Americans.”
While IE 7 use will grow quickly, most of it will come at the expense of older versions of the Explorer browser rather than its competitors.
It’s not surprising that IE7 is winning such strong early reviews, said Gartner analyst Neil MacDonald. It is only a matter of time before the browser keeps more PC users from switching.
“Microsoft is often at its best when facing a strong competitor, and it showed it can be a fast follower of Firefox, while bringing its own innovations to the table as well,” he told TechNewsWorld.
The security fears that drove users away from older versions of IE were compounded by a lack of attention to innovation from Microsoft, something it has addressed by investing heavily in improving the browser this time around.
“IE7 will stanch the flow of users away from IE,” MacDonald said, adding that he thought it was unlikely to win back former IE users who have already made the switch.