Is Internet Explorer's Market Share Slide Reversible?

By  |  Thursday, September 16, 2010 at 5:16 pm

In the early part of this century, it seemed like a given that Microsoft’s Internet Explorer would retain a market share north of ninety percent forever. Then Firefox came along in 2004–and ever since, IE’s fate has seemed to be one of slow but steady market share losses to superior competition. The point was reemphasized when Google’s Chrome came along two years ago: It’s been growing nearly as quickly as Firefox did in its first couple of years, while Firefox also continued to grow and IE degraded..

Yes, IE still has about sixty percent of the market, but that’s a drop of around a third from its peak. And I suspect that its share among people who care enough about browsers to pay attention to what they’re using is far lower. (At the moment it’s the number-three browser in terms of visits to Technologizer, after both Firefox and Chrome.)

Here a graph of market share trends for the entire Web as measured by research firm Net Applications:

In recent months, there have been minor signs of hope for IE8, but they may be mere blips. Absent a much better version of IE, there was no particular reason to think that the basic trend would change.

And then Microsoft released…a much better version of IE. The Internet Explorer 9 beta is the first modern version of IE; the first one that has a shot at winning comparative reviews of browsers; the first one that might keep people who were considering dumping IE in the fold and even win back some expatriates.

I think making predictions about the market share of tech products is a fundamentally silly task, since even the smartest pundits get blindsided by real-world change. (Did any firm predict circa 2003 that use of IE would tumble for six straight years?) But if Internet Explorer being uninspiring at best was hard on the product’s market share, it’s not unreasonable to think that IE being good might boost it, or at least end the decline. Especially since it will continue to retain the enormous competitive advantage of coming preinstalled on the vast majority of the planet’s computers.

Any guesses as to whether it could be poised for a comeback?


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7 Comments For This Post

  1. Pathunt Says:

    Unless MS is able to significantly accelerate their development schedule too match the current pace of updates / revisions / additional features of Chrome, FF, and even Opera I dont think they will be able to sustain any type of resurgence. They simply do not seem to be able to keep pace with the development schedules of other companies. Even IE9, while good so far, is a clear copy of the UI of Chrome version 1.

    They will have to move faster and beat the competition in features to regain much of what they've lost.


  2. Aaron Martin-Colby Says:

    Microsoft is going to have to integrate some free services in with the browser if they hope to change the decline. Simply being comparable to the competition won't be enough.

    I can think of lots of things they could do. Integrate a cloud storage service like Dropbox, Office Online, etc. Firefox already has the Firefox sign-in, to access stuff from any PC. Full integration of Hotmail, free development tools to attract the hard-core.

  3. Hamranhansenhansen Says:

    > Especially since it will continue to retain the enormous competitive advantage
    > of coming preinstalled on the vast majority of the planet’s computers.

    I don't think that's going to last. I think mobiles are going to continue to take over PC's, and Microsoft is going to continue to be much too slow to keep up. In mobiles, IE has a 6% share and dropping. Apple, Android, Palm, BlackBerry, and Nokia all ship with WebKit.

    The fact that there are 5 billion mobiles and only 1 billion notebooks/desktops is going to be important as the rest of the mobiles get browsers. But also I think that mobile features will continue to move up Apple's product line from iPhone — they're obviously in iPad, but there are a surprising number in Mac OS also, even now — and at some point over the next few years, Mac OS 11 will make Windows 7 look like a museum piece from 2001. After that, I think what happened over the past 3 years with smartphones with regards to OS X and Windows will happen to notebooks and desktops with regards to OS X and Windows. Not just Apple gaining and Microsoft losing, but other device makers following in Apple's footsteps without waiting for Microsoft to help them. I think they'll look to the mobile systems to continue to scale up, just like they're looking to Android right now to scale up from mobile phone to mobile PC. Everybody knows Microsoft is just too slow. Nobody thinks they can get anything done in any reasonable amount of time. Look at Windows 7 … it's Mac features from 2001 running XP apps from 2001.

    So I think the mobile browser market swallows the notebook/desktop browser market and in 5 years I expect there will be only one browser market and it will be dominated by WebKit.

    Ironically, you can see this future coming in IE9, which is fundamentally a WebKit clone. It's the browser you would have to make if you didn't want to use WebKit, but you wanted to run the "WebKit Web", which Microsoft likely thinks of as the "mobile Web" right now but it is just the Web. So we are seeing a changing of the guard from IE8's Microsoft/PC-centric browsing to IE9's WebKit/mobile-centric browsing. Definitely a good thing since WebKit is open source and high quality and follows W3C and ISO standards very strictly.

  4. James Yates Says:

    I for one have gone back to Internet Explorer. I find that there is little difference in the speed of any of the browsers out there. I have used Chrome, which I did not like at all. i have used Firefox and found it faster at the beginning, but now no difference is recognizable. I used Safari and liked it, but not as much as IE. Opera I have not tried, but think it is probably about the same as the others. So I guess I will stick with the browser I am most comfortable with. IE is a good browser in my opinion and can not wait for the final release of IE9.

  5. Hamsa Kumar Says:

    I am presently using Chrome and i found faster than FF and IE. However, it depends upon individuals usage and unidirectionality requirement.

  6. Hamsa Kumar Says:

    I am presently using Chrome and I found faster than FF & IE. However, it depends upon the inviduals' usage and functionality requirement.

  7. KTF Says:

    Hamranhansenhansen, Mac OS 11 will not make Windows 7 look like a museum piece…

    I'm not a Windows fanboy, and am open minded with technology, but if I'm honest…seriously? Windows still totally dominates market share. You should look at OS X market share…. nowhere near that of windows and even as a mobile device, OS X lags CONSIDERABLY behind Android. Anyway, that's off topic buy you should really look up figures before making such extreme comments.

    I think IE 9 has a chance, but we will see what happens. I love Google Chrome 🙂