Challenges to Microsofts Web browser dominance are mounting as Internet Explorer loses more market share to open-source rival Mozilla.
Microsoft Corp.s Internet Explorer lost nearly a percentage point in market share in the past seven weeks and is nearing a loss of 3 percentage points since its decline first began in early June, Web analytics provider WebSideStory Inc. reported Monday.
Internet Explorer dropped to 92.9 percent of the browser market as of Oct. 29,which is a decline of 0.8 percentage points since WebSideStorys last market-share report on Sept. 10 and a 2.6 percentage point drop overall.
Firefox, the Mozilla Foundations standalone browser, was the biggest beneficiary of IEs most recent losses, WebSideStory analyst Geoff Johnston said. WebSideStory broke out Firefoxs share for the first time, and the alternative browser comprised 3 percent of the market.
“Is this just a buzz thing or a fad?” Johnston asked. “Its hard to tell, but it has to be encouraging if you are the Mozilla Firefox guys that [IEs losses] have gone on for about five months.”
Officials from Mozilla were not available to comment on the latest market-share numbers.
Firefox wasnt alone in making inroads against IE. Taken together, browsers from Mozilla and America Online Inc.s Netscape Communications subsidiary accounted for 6 percent of the market, a jump of 2.48 percentage points since September.
Other browsers, mainly Opera Software ASAs namesake browser and Apple Computer Inc.s Safari browser, crossed the 1 percent line, gaining 0.1 percentage points to make up 1.1 percent of the browser market, according to San Diego-based WebSideStory.
Microsoft officials attributed the latest market-share shifts to the attention being given to Firefox and to advanced users trying out the IE alternative.
“Were seeing the natural ebb and flow of a competitive marketplace [as] something new has come on the market,” said Gary Schare, a director in Microsofts Windows client division.
Firefox has gained widespread attention since Mozilla released a preview of Version 1.0 in September and stepped up its grass-roots marketing efforts. The official launch of Firefox 1.0 is set for Nov. 9, and Mozilla is releasing a string of final test versions beforehand, foundation officials have said.
Quiet on IE Plans
On the marketing front, Mozilla has exceeded its fund-raising goal for a campaign begun in October to promote the Firefox launch and run an advertisement in The New York Times. As of Saturday, it had garnered $250,000 in donations from more than 10,000 donors, according to an announcement on the Spread Firefox Web site.
In coming weeks, Mozilla plans to run the ad, including the names of donors, to trumpet the Firefox milestone.
As for IE, Microsoft has provided few details about its development plans. In the past, the company has brushed aside market-share losses by pointing out that the browser remains dominant.
Schare said Microsoft does need to do a better job of explaining the benefits of IE and of promoting hundreds, if not thousands, of third-party add-ons for IE that provide advanced functionality. The add-ons vary from search-engine toolbars, such as the Google Toolbar, to browsers developed on top of IE, such as Avant Browser.
He remained confident that users would stick with IE once they compare it with the final version of Firefox 1.0.
“We think theyll find the site compatibility with IE is better, the support from Microsoft is better and that the compatibility with business applications is better—all the things that drove them to use IE in the first place,” he said.
But at least one third-party application developer is expanding its support to include Firefox. A9.com Inc., Amazon.com Inc.s search company, on Monday released a version of its search toolbar to run with Firefox. Previously, the toolbar only supported IE.
Internet Explorers sustained market-share drop has surprised WebSideStorys Johnston. Though the decline leveled off a bit between August and September, it has regained momentum since mid-September, he said.
Still, he said it is unlikely that IE will drop more than another percentage point or two. Instead, Microsoft is likely to respond to the increased competition, such as with a new version of the browser, he said.
“Even crossing 3 percent is a major accomplishment, and I expect that it will level out at some point,” Johnston said. “This has awoken Microsoft to [a] new challenge … and they dont like being beaten.”
Microsoft has not released a major version of Internet Explorer in three years, since it launched IE 6. The company increasingly has tied IE development to the development path for its Windows operating system.
Schare said Microsoft is working on a release of an IE update to coincide with the release of Windows Longhorn.
Windows XP Service Pack 2, released in August, did include some IE changes, mainly centered on security. SP2 also provided blocking for browser pop-up ads, a feature that has been available in most alternative browsers for years.