IE Dominance Threatened by the Fox

New data shows the popularity of alternative browsers continues to erode the overwhelming market share of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, even before the latest version of Mozilla’s Firefox, which formally hits shelves next week.

The latest data from Web analytics firm WebSideStory shows that the Mozilla and Firefox browsers, both of which are produced by the open-source friendly Mozilla Foundation, grew their combined market share to 6 percent, up from 5.2 percent in September and just 3.5 percent in June of this year.

So far, the alternative browsers’ gains are minor compared to the dominance of Internet Explorer, which according to WebSideStory was still used by just under 93 percent of all Web surfers last month. However, the news couldn’t come at a better time for Mozilla.

In addition to showing a penchant for IE-alternatives, the data also suggest that Mozilla is quickly becoming the preferred option for those seeking to break free of the Microsoft offering. Other browsers, such as Opera and Apple’s Safari, combined account for just 1 percent of the total market.

Raising Money, Momentum

Users began flocking to alternative browsers in larger numbers last spring, when several security flaws spotted in IE prompted some security experts to recommend using other programs to surf the Web until Microsoft could better secure its browser.

Next week, Mozilla will formally launch a new version of Firefox, a launch for which it has been actively fund-raising to support. The foundation said it has collected around US$250,000, much of which will be set aside for advertising and marketing of the November 9 launch.

Much of those funds came from individuals giving small contributions, foundation spokesman David Hallowell said. He described those contributions as a testament to how deeply people feel about having viable alternatives in the marketplace.

Some analysts believe the growth of alternatives, and the reams of positive publicity they’re generating, might force Microsoft to roll out an updated version of IE before the Longhorn Windows upgrade hits in two years.

The latest numbers suggest the uptake of alternatives won’t slow on its own, even with new concerns. Late last month, the alternative browser juggernaut hit something of a snag when security experts warned that the underlying technology used in most of the browsers that enable tabbed page viewing is a security risk.

Still Dominant

WebSideStory analyst Geoff Johnston noted that IE held a steady grip on more than 95 percent of the browser market for nearly six years, when it booted Netscape out of the dominant position.

The first dip came earlier this year and the firm, which bases its data on a survey of some 30 million browsers in use on the Web daily, has seen steady erosion since.

That the sharks smell blood in the water over IE is also obvious from the rampant rumors that Google was working on its own browser. The search company has since denied those rumors.

However, another sign that the alternative browsers are gaining momentum came when’s search subsidiary A9 said it would make available a search toolbar designed to be integrated with the Firefox browser.

Critical Mass

Some analysts say alternatives are likely to hit a plateau in uptake, in part because IE use is so deeply ingrained in the public habits and because it is still the browser of choice in almost all corporate environments.

Changing that will take longer but the foundation for that shift is being put in place, said Red Monk senior analyst Stephen O’Grady.

“In an enterprise environment, awareness is important,” he said. “So is long-term viability.” If Mozilla can reach enough of a critical mass to show it is here to stay and not a fad of the moment, it could win corporate converts on its merits, he added.

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