Did Microsoft really rush Internet Explorer 9 into Windows Update in a desperate move to catch up with Firefox?
Sorry, conspiracy theorists, but the answer is an emphatic no.
My colleague Mary Jo Foley wrote “Forget June: Microsoft already pushing IE9,” noting an apparent acceleration from a previously reported June schedule. Elsewhere on ZDNet, Steven J. Vaughan Nichols piled on: “Why is Microsoft pushing IE 9 out now? Firefox.” In his view, Microsoft was forced to “push IE9 out early” because Firefox is kicking the stuffings out of IE 9 in adoption rates.
That would be an interesting argument if it were supported by any evidence. Too bad the theory crumbles into little pieces as you soon as do some research. With IE 9, Microsoft is following the exact same schedule as it did with Internet Explorer 8 and Internet Explorer 7, with an identical rollout strategy. Nothing’s been sped up, nothing’s been slowed down. This is how Microsoft releases a new browser.
Don’t take my word for it. Here are the actual timelines for all three major releases of Internet Explorer:
Internet Explorer 7
IE7 marked its Release to Web (RTW) milestone on October 18, 2006. It first appeared on Windows Update two weeks later, in the first week of November 2006. The announcement noted that this would be a slow rollout that would take place over a period of months.
We have now slowly started general AU distribution of IE7 in English, and this will continue over the next few months. For localized versions, we plan to follow this same approach of first releasing to the IE site followed by AU distribution several weeks later.
That shouldn’t have been a surprise: Those plans had been communicated in detail three months before the final release.
Internet Explorer 8
Microsoft made IE8 available for download by the public on March 19, 2009. It showed up on Windows Update two weeks later, in the first week of April 2009. Again, this was part of a plan that had been publicly announced three months in advance, and another public announcement was posted when the updates began rolling out:
Last week, we released IE8 via Automatic Update to users still running pre-release versions of IE8 (Beta 2 or Release Candidate 1). The goal was to make sure users who chose to install IE8 have the latest up-to-date version.
[A couple weeks after that], users still running IE6 or IE7 … will get a notification through Automatic Update about IE8. This rollout will start with a narrow audience and expand over time to the entire user base.
Are you seeing a pattern emerge?
Internet Explorer 9
The official RTW announcement was on March 14, 2011. It was released to Automatic Updates exactly two weeks later, on March 28, per this post on the Windows Team Blog. As before, it’s a gradual rollout:
[W]e just turned on Windows Update for IE9 RTW yesterday – even then only for existing IE9 Beta and RC users. Windows Update for all our Windows customers will start sometime next month [in April].”
Just as they did with IE 8.
Internet Explorer 9 will not be broadly rolled out on Windows Update until the end of June.
That’s a period of roughly three months to ramp up from RTW to broad availability. The same as with every other major Internet Explorer launch in recent memory.
Which brings us full circle to the Firefox-versus-IE numbers. Microsoft’s core business users are cautious and conservative, and the company’s approach to releasing a new browser has always emphasized slow but steady adoption. Firefox, on the other hand, is an enthusiast’s product. There’s no IT department to plan a wide-scale deployment, no apps that target a specific version of the browser and have to be tested first.
Again, don’t take my word for it—look at the numbers. One year after IE8’s release, here’s how it compared to its predecessors in data from Net Market Share:
- Internet Explorer 8: 26.61%
- Earlier versions: 31.57%
Less than half of all Internet Explorer users had upgraded to the most recent version after a year. By contrast, here’s what the numbers for Firefox looked like one year after the release of Firefox 3.0:
- Firefox 3: 20.53%
- Earlier versions: 1.88%
Here are the numbers one year after the release of Firefox 3.5:
- Firefox 3.5/3.6: 20.75%
- Earlier versions: 2.99%
In both cases, more than 90% of all Firefox users upgraded within the first year. That’s a very sharp curve, quite unlike the incremental growth rate for Internet Explorer.
By the way, on the two-year anniversary of its launch, IE 8 had climbed another 7.8%, to 34.41%. Firefox 3+ had picked up less than two additional points of usage share, at 23.22%.
If you want to look at raw downloads as indicative of anything, be sure you place the numbers in historical context. Of course Firefox will inspire a flurry of downloads at launch. That’s the nature of the audience. Let’s check back in a year and see how things have changed, shall we?