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Firefox Still Gaining on IE But Uptake Slowing

By Keith Regan E-Commerce Times ECT News Network
Mar 1, 2005 10:11 AM PT

The Firefox browser from the Mozilla Foundation has continued to gain market share and erode the dominance of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, but there are signs the juggernaut might be losing steam.

Firefox Still Gaining on IE But Uptake Slowing

WebSideStory said Firefox now holds about 5.7 percent of the browser market. IE's share fell below 90 percent for the first time, at 89.9 percent.

WebSideStory said that in a five-week period starting in early January, Firefox grew its market share by 15 percent, compared with 22 percent expansion in the six weeks previous and some 34 percent in the weeks immediately following the release of version 1.0 in November.

Early Adopters, Security

While still a significant rate of expansion, the slowdown means Firefox will probably not reach the 10 percent market share goal until the end of the year, later than had been forecast by analysts based on its early performance, but on track for the Mozilla Foundation's plan for the browser.

"Growth in Firefox's usage has slowed slightly since its big surge in November," WebSideStory CEO Jeff Lunsford said. That initial surge saw millions of downloads of Firefox 1.0 in the days after its release.

The fact that the surge has slowed could be attributed to two factors, Lunsford said. First, the browser has likely already been downloaded by the "likely early adopters" and second, new security concerns are being discovered in connection with the browser.

Just last week, Firefox warned of security flaws in the software. That could be the more significant factor in the long run, analysts say, because security fears about IE were seen as a main driver of Firefox uptake.

Security Backlash

The Mozilla Foundation continues to tout the uptake of Firefox, noting that some 25 million downloads of Firefox 1.0 have been performed since it was launched 100 days ago.

"The download numbers continue to impress us and, it seems, the media.," Lunsford said. "We track usage rather than downloads, however, and are seeing that the growth in Firefox's usage has slowed slightly since its big surge in November."

It would be ironic if security concerns are in fact responsible for the slowdown, since it was warnings about IE from security experts that drove many users to consider Firefox.

Last week, Mozilla released patches it said would help make Firefox more secure against certain threats, including Web site spoofing.

Gartner analyst David Mitchell Smith said the initial surge in Firefox growth was bound to slow down and that the inevitable revelation of some security holes is just one of several reasons.

Distribution Deals

"The growth in usage was driven by factors that are not inherently sustainable," Smith told the E-Commerce Times. For instance, many enterprises have built entire custom programs maximized for use with IE.

At the same time, however, Microsoft's ability to respond was limited because it has promised that the next big IE revamps would come as part of the Longhorn operating system, Smith said.

Perhaps recognizing that the direct-download route might not give it as much reach and exposure as it would like, Mozilla announced in February the first of what it said would be a series of deals to distribute Firefox though an Internet service provider.

Seattle, Washington-based Speakeasy plans to start bundling the browser with the startup software it gives its new high-speed customers.

However, most analysts say the best way to spread Firefox use is to continue the aggressive, guerrilla-style marketing campaign that Mozilla has pushed from the outset, using a few carefully placed media buys and targeting bloggers and other influencers.

Meanwhile, for IE, the 90 percent market share level was expected by some analysts to be a tipping point of sorts. However, the current usage is just one-hundredth of a point below that level and when only Windows-based browsers are considered, IE's share rises to around 93 percent.

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