Apache booms in 2003

The open-source Web server continued its rise last year, powering 67 percent of all Web sites, while rivals remained flat

The Apache Web server fared well in 2003, growing far more rapidly than its nearest rival, Microsoft's Internet Information Services (IIS), to remain by far the most widely used Web server on the Internet, according to new figures from Netcraft.

Netcraft, a UK Web services firm, found that Apache grew from about 22 million sites (of a total of about 35 million) in January of 2003 to about 31 million (out of about 46 million) in January of 2004, an increase of about 40 percent. In the same period, IIS remained roughly flat, declining from 9,739,069 to 9,675,504.

Apache's market share grew from about 62 percent to about 67 percent, while IIS dropped from 27 percent to 21 percent.

The figures are the result of a consistent trend, according to Netcraft director Mike Prettejohn, who said Apache has grown more quickly than its competitors for several years. "Apache has done well because it is very stable, its security record is very good, it is reasonably straightforward to administer -- and it is free," Prettejohn said, although he said cost was not a dominant factor in Apache's success.

In a related trend last year, several large domain-hosting companies -- hosting millions of inactive, or "parked" domain names -- switched from IIS to other systems. Register.com had previously used Apache before switching to IIS, and in 2003 the company switched back to Apache. Likewise, Network Solutions switched from IIS back to Sun software. Network Solutions' move alone resulted in a jump in Sun's market share last year, although this share remains small, at about 3 percent.

The overall figures also don't reflect an important fact: Microsoft's strength in the market for SSL servers, commonly used by e-commerce providers. Microsoft powers about 49 percent of SSL servers in Netcraft's survey, followed by Apache with about 36 percent and Sun with about 3.5 percent.

Microsoft has kept around 50 percent of the SSL market, Prettejohn said, but the remaining half of the market has been shifting in Apache's favour.