Internet Explorer gains Web browser market share from Firefox

But, at first glance it appears IE 6 (!) that gains the most, while Firefox loses the most. A closer look reveals the truth.
Written by Steven Vaughan-Nichols, Senior Contributing Editor

Rumor has it that by the time the South by SouthWest (SXSW) conference rolls around in a few weeks, all the major Web browsers-Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer (IE), Opera, and Safari--will have come out with new versions. So, why, is the oldest, and the most insecure of the lot, IE 6, making the single biggest browser version gain according to Net Applications' latest Web browser survey?

Well you can blame the CIA. No, seriously.

As Net Applications explained, "All of our global usage share reports are weighted based on C.I.A. data on how many Internet users per country there are. For example, we have more data on the U.S. than China so we weight the Chinese data proportionally higher according to the research provided by the C.I.A."

In February, the C.I.A. released new data on how many Internet users per country there are. It shows a large increase in the global percentage of Chinese users and a decrease in the global percentage of users from the U.S., U.K, Germany, France and other developed countries.

These geographic shifts in Internet usage have a significant impact on the global usage share numbers starting in February. This adjustment corrects an increasing inaccuracy over time as population shifts occur and reflects reality more closely than unadjusted numbers.

The net result is that between January 2011, with the old way of counting, and February 2011, with the CIA-adjusted numbers, IE 6--the browser that even Microsoft wants to kill, kill, kill--gained .7%. Fortunately, for the sake of the sanity of all Web security gurus everywhere, IE 6 adjusted numbers still shows the bad browser from pre-history still dropping.

So, how did IE 6 even show a gain of any sort by any kind of measurement? The answer is in that "large increase in the global percentage of Chinese users." In China, many, perhaps most, Windows users are using pirated copies of XP. Even though Microsoft has made it possible for pirate XP users to get IE 7 without proving they had legal copies with Windows Genuine Advantage, most such users don't appear to have taken advantage of the offer.

Net Applications doesn't have that much hard data from China, but it weights its Chinese data higher because it has a greater percentage of the world's Internet users than other countries. So it is, Net Applications reports that "Firefox loses global share since many of the countries it is most popular in (Western European, in particular) now have a lower percentage of global Internet users. Internet Explorer gains as browser usage shifts to countries with higher percentages of Internet Explorer users." Indeed in Europe, Firefox is still the number one browser.

That said, IE, for the first time in months, actually did show real gains. As Roger Capriotti, Microsoft's director of Internet Explorer Product Marketing, wrote, "We saw share of both Internet Explorer 8 and 9 grow." Specifically, "When adjusted using the older weighting, IE8 and 9 actually show even stronger growth on Windows: up 1.31% (versus 1.13% using the new February weighting) - or over three times Chrome's 0.42% growth. We continue to measure our share progress relative to our addressable base, and in this case our addressable base is Windows."

Even if you take into account Mac OS X, Linux and other users, IE did show smaller, but real, growth. This growth came at the expense of Firefox. I strongly suspect this was because of the growing popularity of IE 9, which is now at the release candidate stage; the continued rise of Chrome; and, it must be said, the continued delays in getting Firefox 4 out the door.

This spring and summer, after IE 9, which runs only on Windows 7, and Firefox 4 are rolled out and Chrome 9 has had a chance to establish itself, will tell the real story of which program will end up being the top Web browser for 2011 here, in Europe, and in China.

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