Microsoft confident IE9 browser will regain market share

Software giant bets on latest Internet Explorer's streamlined aesthetics and enhanced performance to cement its top spot in Web browser market and increase Windows 7's desktop share.

SINGAPORE--Microsoft expects the latest installment of its Web browser, Internet Explorer 9 (IE9), to help regain its stronghold share in the market despite declining figures and lack of support for Windows XP.

At a demo session for the media held here Tuesday, Microsoft's Asia-Pacific chief marketing officer, Haresh Khoobchandani, told ZDNet Asia that the software vendor expects to see a "huge momentum" of upgrades to IE9 as analyst reports point to plans by organizations to "aggressively" deploy Windows 7 over the next 12 to 18 months.

"That's going to fuel the IE9 deployment as well, given the improved performance, security and simplicity of the browser", he noted.

Released worldwide in beta last week, IE9 touts a cleaner user interface, hardware acceleration, better graphics performance and support for Web standards including HTML5 and CSS3.

While IE still holds the number one spot in the Web browser market, its stake has steadily slipped from a peak of 95 percent in 2002 to barely 60 percent in August this year, amid further competition from Mozilla's Firefox, Google's Chrome, Apple's Safari and Opera, according to figures from Net Applications.

Asked if IE9 will help Microsoft regain its former stranglehold of the browser space, Khoobchandani said the browser's new features are significant and will allow the company to remain relevant and continue to grow its market share. Pointing to the changes in IE9, he said "it's a remarkable leap from where we were".

IE9, he added, is part of a larger, overarching initiative of Microsoft to deliver what the customer wants: "simplicity, speed and security."

He said public reception of IE9 has been promising. In particular, downloads of the beta from users in Singapore are showing significant numbers "relative to the size of population and maturity of the market we have across Asia", he said, but declined to provide specific figures.

Not for Windows XP
According to Microsoft, IE9 beta clocked over 2 million downloads in the first two days of its Sep. 15 launch, surpassing IE8 which managed 1.3 million over five days after its launch.

However, industry analyst Ovum noted that companies will give IE9 a miss due to the lack of support for the browser on the Windows XP operating system.

"For the vast majority of corporate IT managers and their users, [IE9 beta launch] is a complete non-event," Richard Edwards, principle analyst at Ovum, said in a statement Friday.

He noted that most large enterprises are still running Windows XP, and will continue to do so for at least the next two years. "Microsoft's decision to drop support for Windows XP with this release of Internet Explorer has, therefore, rendered it an irrelevancy," Edwards said.

Most large enterprises also have yet to deploy IE8, the precedent version, so when the official version of IE9 is released, most companies will still be testing for compatibilities with IE7 and IE8, "let alone IE9", the analyst added.

Other industry observers also noted that a number of IE9's new features and aesthetics resemble its rivals such as Firefox's download manager and larger-sized 'back' button, as well as Chrome's combined URL and search bar.

But, Khoobchandani said such similarities do not mean Microsoft is simply attempting to play catch-up. Ultimately, different products will sport different features.

"There are competitors who are also taking features from us now," he said. "Does that mean they're late into the game? Probably not. The same would apply to us."

He further underscored that the critical factor in Microsoft's success is listening to its customers and delivering what they want.

"We've done that with Windows 7 to a huge success and with IE9, we're off to a good start," he said.

According to Khoobchandani, the browser is targeted to move from beta to actual launch in the first half of 2011, but noted that the final official release date will still depend on the feedback the company gets from users.

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