How does IIS keep its market share?

Two domain registrars recently moved domain parking to IIS servers, but Larry Seltzer thinks it signals a long-term upward trend.

I've always been a fan of the Netcraft Web Server Survey. The survey was in the news again recently for showing a large increase in the share of sites running Microsoft's IIS.

While the increase was in fact due to two companies, Network Solutions and Register.com, moving domain parking facilities to IIS servers, the survey still shows a strong share of IIS, even among active sites, and what looks to me to be a long-term upward trend.

It's important to remember that this survey doesn't tally Web servers, it tallies Web sites. There's an important difference: A single Web server at a hosting service could be hosting thousands of cheap little Web sites. There is just one server running one copy of the Web server software, but it would count as thousands of hits for that Web server software in the survey. Also, this survey gives no indication of what is running on Web servers that are not publicly accessible.

The survey has been around for a long time. The oldest data I can find is from August 1, 1995, just prior to the release of Windows 95. The survey found 18,957 Web servers on the Internet with 57.16 percent of them running the NCSA server, 19.69 percent running the CERN server, and 3.47 percent running the then infant Apache. There were a total of 680 Netscape servers and no Microsoft servers running. But things change--in the most recent survey results, Apache at 53.76 percent, Microsoft was at 34.02 percent, and NCSA has been flat-lining since mid-1999.

That's quite a growth pattern for Microsoft, but you have to wonder why people run IIS? An analogy could be drawn with Internet Explorer, for example; although it's simplistic to compare IIS and IE in almost any way, there's a lot of similarity from the anti-Microsoft point of view. Both are widely disparaged as insecure and inferior programs compared to the main competition which, in both cases, is free and open source. And yet IE owns its market and IIS maintains a respectable share of its own. The reflexive Microsoft critic would say that people use IE because they have no realistic choice but to buy Windows and therefore they get IE anyway. But why are all those people running IIS servers?

Remember that IIS market share actually grew through the period when the Code Red and Nimda worms hit. Infection with these worms caused many administrators to realize that they had been running IIS on NT and Windows 2000 servers for no reason, and many subsequently disabled it. Yet since Code Red came out IIS's share of all servers has gone from 26 percent to 34 percent.

Absolutely no one running IIS was forced to buy Windows instead of something else--Linux for example--as a server OS. And even if they did choose to run Windows there is a Windows version of Apache that was unremarkable, but has a better reputation these days. It's a puzzlement. Could it be that some companies are actually willing to pay for the value added by Windows or, for that matter, by IIS?

Without getting too specific about it, the market in general values the advantages of IIS far more than the biterati who blithely advise corporations to drop it. I feel confident saying that nearly all of those who chose to use IIS for their Web servers were fully aware that there were alternatives available, some of them free, and yet they chose IIS.

I was surprised to see that the survey said that Network Solutions along with Register.com had moved their parking facilities to IIS. I remember years ago reading how Network Solutions was a Java/CORBA poster child company, both NetSol and Register.com are obviously technically capable. Perhaps Steve Ballmer went to Network Solutions' headquarters with an A-bomb and threatened them. But what leverage does Microsoft have on Barnes & Noble to get them to run their substantial commerce site on IIS? In fact, many of the largest commerce sites on the net run IIS. Besides B&N, there's Buy.com, Dell.com, Gateway.com, 1-800-FLOWERS.com, and Staples.com. What pictures does Microsoft have of the Fords that convinces them to put their Web site on IIS? And what's the connection between Bill Gates and the royal family? Like Network Solutions, for years Britain ran the royal Web site on Apache, and a few months ago they suddenly switched to IIS. Inquiring minds want to know.

More than likely, the administrators of these sites like the administrative capabilities of IIS (no more powerful, but far easier than Apache's), the fact that it's very easy to get powerful dynamic sites up and running, and the very large amount of third-party software that's available for IIS. As for Apache being free, the initial cost is a small matter. Maybe the admins are right and we're wrong. When so many people vote with their dollars and reputations, I'm inclined to reject the conventional wisdom.

I'm really not sure what the answer is. After being bombarded with bad news and hostile propaganda for years, I'd expect customers to have tended to move away from IIS, and yet the opposite is happening. Given all the negative hype, why do you think people stick with IIS?

Are you sticking with IIS or contemplating a change? Tell us in our TalkBack forum, or drop Larry a a line.