Chrome’s Gain Is IE’s Pain

The Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox Web browsers are gaining market share at the expense of Microsoft’s dominant Internet Explorer.

Statistics from NetApplications.com show that Chrome had 6.73 percent of the browser market in April. Firefox had nearly 25 percent, and Internet Explorer continued the decline it’s experienced over the last few years to claim just under 60 percent of the market last month.

Microsoft is, in part, a victim of its dominance, Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president for marketing and strategic alliances at NetApplications.com, told the E-Commerce Times.

Chrome Shines in the Market

Microsoft’s Internet Explorer family of browsers was still predominant in April. However, Google Chrome’s growth has been rapid, considering that this browser was launched only in September of 2008.

That could be partly due to its speed and performance. For example, Chrome came out the winner in a test of various browsers conducted by Tom’s Hardware in March.

“It does seem that people are gravitating towards a faster browser,” observed Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group.

The Chrome browser could get another boost toward the end of this year, when Google will unveil netbooks running on the Chrome operating system.

“If the Chrome operating system takes off, that will certainly increase the usage share of the Chrome browser,” NetApplications’ Vizzaccaro said.

Google’s Chrome browser faces an entrenched market leader in Microsoft and an entrenched market challenger in Firefox. However, Google has the muscle to keep pushing it ahead.

“Google has far more resources than Mozilla and is obviously focused on making Chrome successful through widespread advertising efforts,” Vizzaccaro explained.

The Mozilla Foundation developed and works on Firefox.

Firefox Flexes Its Muscles

Firefox is the primary challenger to IE. Its market share stood at nearly 25 percent in April, but its growth appears to have slowed somewhat.

The Firefox browser raced ahead between 2008 and 2009. In April 2008, it had just over 17 percent of the browser market, and in April 2009 it had almost 24 percent, Vizzaccaro pointed out.

“I think Firefox made advancements in browser technology faster than Microsoft did for several years,” Vizzaccaro remarked. While Opera did outpace Firefox for a while in introducing new features, Firefox gained usage share more quickly because it was free and open, he said.

However, the usage statistics for Firefox could be deceiving because not all users employ just one browser.

“A lot of people use both Firefox and Internet Explorer,” Enderle told the E-Commerce Times. “Firefox is a good browser, and a lot of the protection Microsoft built into Internet Explorer pulled it down a bit.”

Uneasy Lies the Head

Perhaps Microsoft has been a victim of its own success.

“Microsoft had to maintain IE’s compatibility with older websites, and was, frankly, slower to make improvements than the competition,” NetApplications’ Vizzaccaro pointed out.

IE has dominated the browser market for years.

“IE grabbed more than 90 percent of the market from Netscape between 1999 and 2002 but has faced growing competition and a slowly declining usage since 2003,” Vizzaccaro said.

Internet Explorer’s usage market share fell from nearly 78 percent in April 2008 to almost 68 percent in April 2009. That 10 percent drop is larger than it looks when you consider that Microsoft has about 90 percent of the operating systems market for PCs and a large percentage of the operating systems market for servers, and that IE is built into its operating systems.

Hope Springs Eternal

Despite losing market share, Microsoft is still sitting pretty.

“I think every other browser provider would trade positions with Microsoft without hesitation,” NetApplications’ Vizzaccaro said. “Microsoft has the vast majority of the operating system market and almost 60 percent of the browser usage market.”

Further, the statistics on market share might be misleading.

“According to NetApplications, for the month of April, Internet Explorer 8 had the highest growth rate across all users worldwide, with 1.08 percent growth as compared with Chrome at 0.6 percent growth,” Microsoft spokesperson Tarran Vaillancourt pointed out.

“In the EU, where the browser ballot screen is deployed, Internet Explorer 8 also fared well, growing 0.28 percent month over month, on par with the growth rate of Firefox,” Vaillancourt told the E-Commerce Times.

Microsoft has to provide users in the EU a choice of browsers under the terms of its settlement of an antitrust lawsuit brought against it in Europe.

Perhaps Internet Explorer 9 will help Microsoft further strengthen its position.

“If Microsoft can execute on IE9 and re-energize their user base, there’s no reason they shouldn’t be able to stop losing usage share and potentially even gain share back,” Vizzaccaro said.

“Facing serious competition from both Firefox and now Chrome, Microsoft has dedicated more resources to IE recently,” he added.

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