Analysis – Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 8 has been available for 18 days and remains the company’s weakest web browser at launch since version 3. While the software now seems to be close to 4% market share, it appears to be unable to stop the bleeding of other IE versions. Since the beginning of the year, Mozilla’s Firefox has picked up more than half of the users IE lost; the other half went to Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome. This trend is evident in new market share numbers published by Net Applications and StatCounter, which show that Firefox hit a new record market share in March.
We have had some indications that Microsoft messed up the launch of its new browser before. Now, more than two weeks into the availability of the software, we have a better idea which browsers were affected by the introduction of the browser and which ones were not. To see a first trend, we had a close look at the market share data published by Net Applications – which publicly releases detailed numbers every day.
March 2009: Firefox clears 22%, IE drops below 67%
On an average basis, IE remains the dominant browser globally, according to Net Applications. However, the market share was 66.82%, the lowest level for IE in about a decade. Firefox marches on and came in at 22.05%, the highest number published by the market research firm so far. Safari climbed back up to 8.23%, after having dropped to 8.05% in February, and Google’s Chrome continued to gain slightly to 1.23%. For the month, IE was down 0.62 percentage points, Firefox up 0.28 points, Safari up by 0.21 points and Chrome up by 0.08 points. We will leave the Opera browser out of consideration in this article, as its share has always remained between 0.69% and 0.75% over the past year and has not shown substantial gains or losses. Its current share is estimated at 0.71%.
While we still have to wait for the first full month of availability of IE8, it is clear for now that the browser has not dented Firefox’ share and has trouble slowing the losses posted by IE7 and IE8. We feel that Net Applications’ numbers may even be a bit conservative in that regard. StatCounter, for example, estimates Firefox’ market share above 25%, with highs of more than 28% on weekend days (compared to Net Applications’ estimated highs of about 24%.)
Analysis thoughts: Week days, weekends, geographies
Clear answers from a browser usage share analysis is virtually impossible. There is no way to come up with an accurate sample of browser users globally, browser usage greatly varies on week days and weekends and different geographies prefer different browsers. In that view, a browser usage share analysis can indicate likely trends, at least if we assume that the numbers we are dealing with are somewhat correct. So take our results with a grain of salt.
In terms of weekends and weekdays, we here at TG Daily differentiate between consumer and professional browsers. Whereas most browsers fall into both categories, IE6 is a specific case as it is almost entirely used only in professional and corporate environments these days. IE6 has been certified for lots of corporate applications since its launch in August of 2001 and many of IT Managers have chosen not to move to a more recent IE version or another browser. IE6 is the reason why IE’s market share dips on weekends by as much as 4.2%, according to Net Applications, while Firefox, Safari, Chrome and Opera tend to gain – Firefox by more than 2 points and Safari by about 1.5 points in March.
We also know that IE is much more popular in the U.S. than it is in the rest of the world – and that IE8 has been adapted much quicker in the U.S. than it has in other geographies (which can be seen, for example, through hourly market share numbers posted by Net Applications.) Also, StatCounter recently reported that Firefox 3 has become the most popular browser with a share of 35.05%, exceeding Internet Explorer 7 (34.54%) for the first time. The market research firm said that overall Firefox market share is now only 10% behind Internet Explorer in Europe.
Read on the next page: Market share trends 2009, IE8 market share gains not strong enough, Waiting for October 2014
Market share trends 2009: Firefox, Chrome up; Safari, Opera stable, IE down
If we are looking at overall browser market share trends, and if we look at Net Applications’ data alone, then there is no doubt that there is little that can stop Firefox at this time. Firefox and Chrome are the only browsers that have posted continuous gains in the first quarter of the year. Firefox is up 0.71 points from December 2008 and Chrome is up 0.19 points. Safari is swinging back and forth, but is up 0.30 points, while Opera is pretty consistent with a share that has remained virtually the same for the past half year.
Internet Explorer has been dropping every month and was down 1.33 points by the end of March. If this statistic is somewhat correct, then we know that more than half of the IE losses go to Firefox (53%), while Safari is picking up about one in four users that drop IE (23%), while one in seven go to Chrome (13%).
IE8 impact on IE’s market share losses not enough?
Net Applications’ data also provides some insight in IE browser versions and how they are affected by IE8’s launch. We already know that Firefox has not been impacted substantially so far: Late March as well as early April indicates that it is not losing any market share.
While it is too early to make any safe assumptions where IE8’s market share gain comes from, we do have some data sets we can compare in order to see how IE7 and IE6 are impacted. According to Net Applications, IE8 currently stood at a market share of 3.43% as of Friday, April 3. It has gained 2.24 points since the beginning of March and 1.98 points since its launch on March 19.
IE7 currently stands at 44.54% and has lost 2.86 points over the average market share number of February and 1.62 points since IE8’s launch. IE6 was listed at 19.03% at the time of this writing, up 0.46% over the February average and down 0.98 points since IE8’s launch. Combined, IE6 and IE 7 are down 2.40 points since February, while IE8 was able to gain 2.24 points. Since IE8 launch, the two browsers are down 2.96 points vs. a 1.98 point gain of IE8.
If we average the March market share gain/loss numbers and compare the result against the February average, then we get an IE market share loss of 0.63 points for the entire month (which pretty much matches the share loss number for IE in March and indicates that IE5 and IE4 have virtually no impact on IE’s market share anymore) and 0.67 points for the time frame between the IE8 launch and the end of the month.
The obvious conclusion here is that IE8 has not, so far, put a floor under Microsoft’s declining market share in the browser market. In fact, what we have seen in the first two weeks after IE8 launch is an overall market share decline that may actually be accelerating.
If Net Applications’ numbers are correct, then IE7’s share is dropping much faster than IE8 can pick it up. Since IE8’s launch, IE7 has lost an average of 1.71 points (we are looking at the average daily share loss over the first 16 days of availability), while IE8 gained an average of 1.49 points. IE6 makes matters only worse as it has lost an average of 0.45 points since IE8 launch.
With a quick look at other browsers, Firefox has gained 0.17 points since IE8 launch and is listed with an average of 22.22% since then by Net Applications. Safari is at 8.32%, which is up 0.09 points, and Chrome gained 0.06 points to 1.29%.
Waiting for October 2014
It will be interesting to see, how Microsoft’s IE8 Windows Update will impact the overall browser usage share. At this point, Microsoft can only hope that it will bring back some users, who haven’t downloaded the browser so far. Of course, the good news for Microsoft is that the pace of market share loss is still relatively slow. At the current speed, Firefox would need 22 quarters to surpass IE in market share (which would be 38% vs. 37% market share then), which translates to 66 months or five years and six months – or October 2014.
And by then, the IT industry may be vastly different and we may have figured out how this whole cloud computing thingy will work out. And that alone could cause to change the browser market share landscape within a few months.
Nevertheless, the browser market has not been so interesting since the introduction of IE4 back in 1997. Keep your eyes open, the current rivalry is almost certain to bring exciting new software to your desktop. And speaking of that, Mozilla has released the first alpha version of Firefox 3.6 over the weekend. We will post a review of the browser as soon as we have had a thorough look at it.