Internet Explorer Bounce Back May Be a Thud Instead

By HTMLGoodies Staff

By Stuart J. Johnston, Internet News contributing writer

Microsoft has been bragging lately that Internet Explorer (IE) is no longer losing ground to competitors, and has actually begun to recapture some of its market share.

However, the latest numbers from Web analytics firm Net Applications may tell a different story than Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT) was hoping for.

After halting and slightly reversing the decline in overall market share for the months of June and July, in August, IE's slide may be starting up again.

Microsoft's venerable browser -- which just turned 15 years old in August -- hit an historic low-point in market share ever in May when it fell to 59.8 percent of browser use worldwide. In June, however, IE changed direction, rebounding to 60.3 percent and, when July came in at 60.7 percent, Microsoft declared that IE's fortunes had turned around.

In August, though, IE changed directions again, falling to 60.4 percent.

While that is not particularly great news for IE's vaunted turnaround, the story isn't all bad. At least IE's share has been in a holding pattern for three months.

Additionally, IE6 continues to lose share, which could be a benefit to the company.

IE6, the second-most popular version of the browser, remains a favorite among users since it shipped nine years ago with Windows XP. However, IE6 is problematic for both Microsoft and corporate IT staff for the very fact that it is so old and out-of-date, making it expensive to support. Still, many enterprises still run IE6 and they have told Microsoft they can't simply switch to the latest version for compatibility reasons.

So, although Microsoft and many other observers agree it should be retired, IE6 seems as if it will only die out via attrition. The good news is that appears to be happening.

In August, Net Applications' figures show that IE6 remains the second-most popular version of IE, though it lost 0.8 percentage points to give it a 16.2 percent share of all browser use for the month, down from 17 percent in July.

That continues a protracted slide that has seen IE6's usage rate fall from 24.42 percent of browser use in September 2009. In addition, IE6's market share was bested by Firefox 3.6 in August, which pulled in 16.8 percent of browser use for the month, according to Net Applications. That was good enough to make Firefox 3.6 the second most popular of all browser versions.

Meanwhile, the most popular browser version remains the most recent release of Microsoft's browser -- IE8, which shipped in March 2009.

In August, IE8 picked up one percentage point to put it far ahead of both Firefox 3.6 and IE6 with a total share of 27.9 percent.

That leaves IE7 in fourth place with 10.9 percent, a loss of half a percentage point since July, when it held 11.4 percent of the market.

Finally, coming in fifth was Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chrome 5, which also won share in the month, though the gain was slight. Chrome 5 picked up a slim 0.3 percentage points to finish out August with 6.8 percent share.

Microsoft has pinned its hopes for a significant turnaround on the next release of IE, however.

On Sept. 15, Microsoft plans to launch the public beta test of IE9. The company claims IE9 will be faster and more compliant with Web standards than IE8.

Stuart J. Johnston is a contributing writer at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals. Follow him on Twitter @stuartj1000.

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