By Harry McCracken | 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?