Internet Explorer’s Falling Market Share Could Spell Trouble

Microsoft’s shrinking share of the browser market suggests that the days of Internet Explorer’s dominance are coming to an end, says Nicholas Kolakowski

Is Internet Explorer in trouble? And if so, can IE 9 swoop to the rescue?

New data from Net Applications suggests that Internet Explorer’s market share took a slight dip between August and September, from 60.4 percent to 59.65 percent. By contrast, Firefox, Safari and Google Chrome all experienced slight gains.

Chrome’s looking like Internet Explorer’s biggest short-term threat, given a) the Google browser’s steady rise over the past several quarters will likely continue, and b) Google apparently plans on integrating the browser into a number of upcoming products, including Google TV and netbook computers using Chrome OS. If any of those products prove a sizable hit, then that could add fuel to Chrome’s overall acceleration.

Declining market share

In the longer term, though, Internet Explorer’s market share has undergone a steady decline. In November 2009, according to Net Applications, it stood at 63.62 percent. Now it’s broken the 60 percent barrier for the second time this year.

Net Applications lists Microsoft’s Internet Explorer 9 beta with a 0.10 percent share. (IE 8 is the reigning browser-version champ, with a total market share of 29.06 percent, followed by Firefox 3.6 with 17.05 percent.) Microsoft unveiled that IE 9 beta on 15 September in a San Francisco event, and pundits immediately began to pick apart the browser’s features and streamlined design.

But can IE 9 reverse the browser franchise’s downward trend? Other metrics firms place Internet Explorer in an even more precarious position: Royal Pingdom’s market share numbers for September place Microsoft at 49.9 percent of the browser market, down from 58.4 percent in September 2009. That sort of data’s liable to send a few chairs flying up in Redmond.

Microsoft has shown itself capable of reversing a market share decline – look at last year, when Windows 7’s release managed to stem the losses associated with Vista. And it’s also a company that commits itself long-term to projects – People’s Exhibit A being the Xbox franchise, which has managed to persevere despite initial doubts and years’ worth of red link. So I have no doubt that Microsoft will take all the necessary steps to promote IE 9, such as baking the browser into as many products as humanly possible.

But I think the days of Internet Explorer’s absolute browser-market domination are pretty much over. Its majority share could soon follow, although I think that scenario is still a long way off. Microsoft certainly hopes so.