IE gains in latest browser war results

Microsoft's Internet Explorer, after being knocked around for ages, is re-gaining Web browser market share from Google's Chrome and Mozilla's Firefox.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor
Internet Explorer is continuing to make Web browser marketplace gains.

It seemed like a predictable trend: Watch Internet Explorer’s (IE's) market share drop. For the longest time, you could count on IE losing Web browser market share and either Chrome or Firefox picking up users. However, the latest October 2012 numbers from NetMarketShare show that IE is continuing to regain lost ground, thus ensuring its rule as the most popular desktop Web browser, with 54 percent of the market worldwide.

IE’s still-above-the-halfway mark is followed by Mozilla's Firefox with 20 percent and with Google's Chrome nipping at its heels with 19 percent. The other "popular" Web browsers remain mired in the single digits. Apple's Safari comes in fourth with 5 percent and Opera takes fifth, hitting 2 percent only because we round up the percentages.

IE has gained half-a-percentage point since September. This came mostly at the expense of Chrome, which dropped 0.31 percent while Firefox lost .09 percent. Those numbers are small enough that formal market researchers would say there’s essentially no change. However, a little more variance is evident if you poke around in the numbers. If you included Chrome pre-rendering, a technique Chrome uses to pre-load Web pages for better effective performance, into the rankings, Chrome would take second place from Firefox, 30 percent to 20 percent, but Chrome's overall market share would still be slightly declining.

Why is this happening? No doubt, it's in part because of Microsoft's IE 9 TV ad campaign. Mozilla, though, has another explanation: Mozilla claims that by Microsoft not giving users the legally required browser choice menu in Windows 7 SP 1 in the European Union (EU), this kept users from picking an alternative browser.

Harvey Anderson, Mozilla VP of business affairs and general counsel, claims that Microsoft's failure to include the "browser choice" screen for Windows users in the EU for more than a year and a half lost Mozilla between 6-9 million downloads, which Microsoft has admitted to as a "technical error." It's an error that doubtlessly has helped IE browser share. It may also be an issue in the EU's resulting anti-trust legal actions, which cost Microsoft as much as 5.6-billion euros, that is US$7.3-billion. It's expected, however, that Microsoft will settle with the EU for far less.

All that taken into consideration, it didn't help Firefox's cause that the latest version, Firefox 16, had to be pulled from the Firefox download site immediately after its early October release. This was because Firefox 16 proved to have a major security problem. This has since been fixed and Firefox 16 is now available.

Back to the browser market share: NetMarketShare reports that Microsoft has been successful in getting Windows 7 users to switch to IE 9. "With a gain of 1.9 percent last month, Internet Explorer 9 on Windows 7 surpassed 50 percent usage share in the United States – reaching 51.7 percent. Worldwide, it gained 1.3 percent on Windows 7 reaching 40.3 percent usage share for the month of October." IE 9 is only available on Windows 7. IE 8 is the latest version for Windows XP users and IE 10, of course, comes only on Windows 8.

IE is obviously tied to Windows, but Windows users do make other choices. Chrome was Windows users' second favorite browser, followed by IE 8 and Firefox. 

That's all well and good, but winning the desktop browser battles is beginning to mean less than it once did.

NetMarketShare also reports, "For the first time in our sample, browsing on mobile devices has exceeded 10 percent of all browsing. This actually underestimates the total amount of browsing share on mobile devices, since our sample does not contain data on apps, like maps." In the smartphone and tablet market, Safari rules, thanks to Apple's iPhones and iPads, with 60 percent of the market, followed by the Android native browser with 26 percent, Opera Mini at 8 percent, and the BlackBerry browser with 1 percent. The other mobile browsers, including IE, are lost in the noise below the 1 percent market share level. 

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