Microsoft has a lot riding on its March 14 launch of Internet Explorer 9. Although the company's Internet Explorer franchise continues to hold a substantial portion of the browser market, it faces aggressive competition from Firefox, Google Chrome and other rivals.
The final version of Internet Explorer 9 will be available starting 9 p.m. PST. If the browser enjoys substantial consumer and business uptake, it would allow Microsoft to either stop or reverse its slow decline in browser market share.
According to analytics firm Net Applications, Microsoft's share of the browser market currently stands at 56.77 percent, followed by Firefox at 21.74 percent, Google Chrome at 10.93 percent and Safari at 6.36 percent.
For the past 11 months, Internet Explorer's market share has remained relatively stable, starting at 59.95 percent in April 2010, rising to 60.74 percent in July, and then dipping a few percentage points to its current level. That same reporting period saw Firefox's share also decline, from 24.59 percent to 21.74 percent.
Meanwhile, market share for Google Chrome climbed from 6.73 percent to 10.93 percent, and Safari likewise enjoyed significant gains.
On a longer time horizon, though, Internet Explorer's decline becomes more significant. In March 2009, the browser franchise held the line at 68.46 percent of the market, roughly 12 percentage points above its current position. Other browsers can benefit from that steady erosion; this hints at something of a risk for Microsoft, which for years comfortably dominated the market.
Microsoft recently made available the Release Candidate for Internet Explorer 9 via www.BeautyOfTheWeb.com. Available in 40 languages, the RC incorporated more than 17,000 pieces of feedback, with an eye toward building on the IE9 beta's previous advances in performance and standards, user experience, and privacy and safety. Some 25 million testers played around with the beta.
Even as Microsoft begins its battle to draw users to Internet Explorer 9, it's advocated that those same users cease their relationship with the increasingly antiquated IE6, mostly via a Website ("The Internet Explorer 6 Countdown") that tells them to spread the word about upgrading to a new browser. "Friends don't let friends use Internet Explorer 6," reads a missive on the Website. "And neither should acquaintances."
Despite that push, a number of users rely on IE6 as part of Windows XP, another legacy platform the company desperately wants the world to abandon in favor of Windows 7. Some enterprises as well as small and midsize businesses also depend on IE6 for older proprietary applications. That ensures a certain market share for the older browser, despite its abandonment by companies such as Google.