Browser Wars: Internet Explorer loses and Firefox wins in Europe

Internet Explorer falls, Chrome gains, and Firefox maintains.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

It wasn't that long ago that your choice of Web browsers were Internet Explorer (IE) and, ah, uh, a sadly out of date Netscape Navigator or the then obscure Opera. IE was the Web browser, but then along came Firefox in 2004, and everything changed. Today, IE may finally be on its way to losing its market-share leadership position to Firefox.

According to a pair of research firms, StatCounter and Net Application, IE is sinking fast, while Google's Chrome is gaining rapidly at IE's expense.

By Net Application's Web browser reckoning, IE's market-share has dropped to 57.1%, an all-time low. Chrome's market-share, in the meantime, has climbed above 10% for the first time. Apple's Safari is also showing strong gains by reaching the 5.9% mark.

"Safari!?" you ask? Based on my analysis of the numbers, Safari is gaining not because it's suddenly appearing on more PCs, but because of the incredible growth of the iOS-powered devices, the iPod Touch, the iPhone, and the iPad. The Web, you see, really is going mobile, and it's not just in the U.S. with all the rich kids trying out their new iPads. China, India, the most popular Web platform in the twenty-teens may well turn out to be mobile devices, not PCs.

Firefox and Opera also gained some as well on IE, but overall Net Application's numbers showed Firefox losing 1.8 % during 2010, with Opera also losing a tiny amount. IE, however, was the big loser.

Roger Capriotti, IE's director of marketing, tried to put the best face he could on IE's decline in a New Year Day's blog, "At end of 2009, IE 6 and IE7 accounted for 38.51% of Internet users, while IE8 had 24.15% of users worldwide. Fast forward twelve months later, IE6 and IE7 have shed over 40% of users and now only account for 22.98% of users worldwide - with IE6 hitting an all-time low of 13.81%. IE8 usage on the other hand has increased by almost 40% during the same time. Combined with the near half-percent of users of newly introduced IE9 Beta, the modern Internet Explorer browsers now account for 34.07% of users worldwide."

Capriotti also added that IE9 beta, which doesn't run on Windows XP, has been "downloaded 20 million times since launch in September, and IE9 now accounts for 0.46% of Internet users worldwide at year end."

Be that as it may, Microsoft is still losing its once iron-bound grip on the Web browser market. Indeed, StatCounter numbers shows not only that IE is sinking on the marketplace; in Europe, Firefox is now more popular than IE.

No one will be popping open champagne bottles at Mozilla headquarters, though. As StatCounter's CEO, Aodhan Cullen, explained in a statement, "This is the first time that IE has been dethroned from the number one spot in a major territory. This appears to be happening because Google's Chrome is stealing share from Internet Explorer while Firefox is mainly maintaining its existing share."

By StatCounter's estimation, "Firefox took 38.11% of European market share, compared to IE's 37.52%." … Google Chrome in third place is gaining market share in Europe and has grown to 14.58% compared to 5.06% in December last year." … "In North America IE still retains a clear lead in the browser market with 48.92% followed by Firefox (26.7%), Chrome (12.82%) and Safari (10.16%)."

What this means, as I see it, is that Firefox, after Firefox 4 arrives in early 2011, will regain some of its market-share mojo. Firefox will certainly consolidate its lead in Europe and it may even challenge IE in North America. By the end of 2011, though, I see the Web browser wars becoming a three horse race between Chrome, Firefox, and IE. I can see any of them becoming the leading browser in December 2011.

The one thing that is certain is that IE will never again be the number one, unchallenged Web browser. No one else will either. Those days are done.

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