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August 15, 2005

Firefox slips as IE, Safari gain market share

Firefox, the freely available darling of the Web browser world, lost some momentum last month in grabbing market share away from Microsoft Corp's Internet Explorer.

By CBR Staff Writer

The popularity of open-source Firefox last month receded for the first time since The Mozilla Foundation launched it in early November, according to internet analytics firm NetApplications.

Firefox usage dropped from a high of 8.7% in June to 8% in July, NetApplications reported yesterday., a Web development site, also showed a drop in its visitors using Firefox during recent months, from 21% in May to 20% in June and then down to 19.8% in July and August. During the same period, IE 6 grew from 64% to 68%.

I was a little… surprised, said Dan Shapero, NetApplications COO. I would have expected to see it flatten before it declined.

Firefox’s waning usage was a boon for Microsoft’s IE, as well as Apple Computer Corp’s staple Mac browser Safari. Microsoft grew to 87.2% in July up from 86.5% during June, while Safari posted modest growth garnering 2.1%. Most other browsers saw little change during the month.

It is impossible to know whether Firefox’s at least 0.7% drop is an anomaly or the beginning of a trend. Shapero said August numbers would be more telling.

A Mozilla spokesperson was not available for comment, but there may be several reasons why Firefox usage dipped.

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A winning feature of Firefox was that it does not load ActiveX controls, which helps keep spyware at bay. However, the benefits of not having ActiveX may also inconvenience some users, since many Web applications require ActiveX to run.

Also, Firefox’s security record was bruised in recent months, as a number of security flaws were patched. This potentially may have turned some users away, but it likely wouldn’t have made them Microsoft converts. After all, IE itself was patched several times during the same period.

Microsoft’s upcoming IE 7 promises various security improvements. But the browser would not be able to run on Windows 2000 machines, which may be a boon for Firefox.

And at 8% market share, Firefox is still flirting with mass appeal. A 10% share is the magic number for what analysts like to call widespread adoption. Mozilla said more than 80 million users have downloaded the browser.

Part of IE’s stranglehold on the browser market is it being a standard on the corporate desktop, Shapero said. Early adopters and enterprise users who actually have discretion over their desktop, on the other hand, mostly use Firefox. Shapero predicts it would another 18 months before FireFox can penetrate corporate environments and really tear IE’s sail.

NetApplications’ results are based on the habits of 35 million unique Internet users per month. (This is comparable to the 30 million to 40 million Internet users that rival Internet analytics firm, WebSideStory Inc, uses to compile its data. A WebSideStory spokesman said the company did not have recent data on Web browser usage).

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