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The Fox Cometh

November 2nd, 2004

For the sixth month in a row, the market share of open source browsers Mozilla and FireFox and Apple´s Safari browser have grown, slowly eroding Microsoft Internet Explorer´s (IE) market share in the process.

While IE continues to be the market leader with 92% of the market, a recent online study by Active Network, “witnessed another marginal decline, this time a dip of 0.8 percent” according to the study.

Over the last 6 months, IE´s market share has slipped from a high of roughly 96% to October´s 92% level. Until just recently, many Microsoft watchers had noted that the slip was still statistically insignificant. However, after 6 months of stead decline and 6 months of steady growth for FireFox and Mozilla, it is difficult to argue with the harsh reality that there is momentum here and it doesn´t play in IE´s favour.

Realistically, 92% market share is nothing to sneeze at. Apple´s iPod currently enjoys a 98% share of the MP3 market and, as such, yields a considerable amount of power. However, there is very little animosity towards iPod in the general music population. There is animosity towards Internet Explorer. Largely this stems from what the development and power user groups see as a complete lack of commitment on Microsoft´s part to standards and to web developers in general.

Microsoft backers would argue that Microsoft has released some very compelling technologies such as ASP.NET and some very attractive software packages such as it´s Express line of products (currently in beta). The harsh reality, though, is that until this year´s release of Windows XP SP2, IE had seen no new development in nearly 5 years, which is an eternity in “Internet Time”.

In addition, October marks the first month that a real drop has been seen in IE´s actual market share. Previously, FireFox and Mozilla were mainly grabbing share from smaller Open Source and boutique browsers. Now FireFox is emerging as the “non-Internet Explorer” browser of choice.

The source of this momentum isn´t really very hard to find. FireFox is a fantastic browser, with an eye on security and compelling user tools like tabs, a download manager and a team of seasoned developers behind it. In addition, because it runs on multiple platforms, it has given the Linux market a world class browser to work with.

FireFox´s popularity could also come down to good old fashioned, new school marketing. From an upcoming ad in the New York Times paid for entirely by users to the grassroots SpreadFireFox campaign which has customer evangelists pouring onto message boards in the thousands, FireFox is enjoying a considerable amount of momentum. In just the last year it has seen it´s active userbase grow from 1 million to an astounding 15 million active FireFox users.

Does this all mean that Microsoft´s domination of the web is over? Hardly. FireFox will still need to surmount that one hump that may have ended Microsoft´s browser archrival Netscape´s days: the fact that users still have to download the software, when Internet Explorer is right on their desktop.

At the end of the day, regular, average users will need to see something wrong with Internet Explorer that FireFox fixes. Every ad and every grassroots campaign in the world is for naught if users don´t actually have a reason that they want to switch. Old habits die hard, and on the web few habits are harder to kick than Internet Explorer.

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