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Can IE9 Halt Explorer's Decline?

Microsoft's share of the browser market could fall below 50% if newest version fails to reverse current slide.

Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 Beta Revealed
Microsoft Internet Explorer 9 Beta Revealed
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Microsoft is touting the host of new bells and whistles in Internet Explorer 9, released in beta form Wednesday, but whether it will be enough to stop, or even slow, the steep erosion in market share for Redmond's flagship browser is an open question.

Explorer's command of the browser market, once seen as unassailable, is steadily declining. In the past three years, Explorer's share has fallen from 79.16% in 2007 to its current share of 60.40%, for a compound annual growth rate over the period of -8.62%, according to data from market watcher Net Applications.

Explorer's weakened grasp on the browser market has coincided with the emergence of new or rejuvenated competition.

Apple has seen its Safari browser's market share increase at CAGR 29.24% over the past three years, to its current share of 5.16%; Firefox has grown at 13.1% annually from 2007 to 2010, to 22.93%, while new kid on the block Google saw Chrome's market share more than double in just the past 12 months, to 7.52%.

Faced with a more competitive market, Microsoft is counting heavily on Internet Explorer 9 to maintain its majority share in the browser wars. Advanced features include full HTML 5 support, a tool that lets users "pin" their favorite sites directly to the Windows 7 taskbar, and a cleaner interface designed to highlight Web pages as opposed to the browser itself.

"The Web is about sites, and your browser should be too," said Dean Hachamovitch, Microsoft's corporate VP for Internet Explorer, in a statement. "When we designed the IE9 interface, we wanted the frame to say, 'Look at the site, not the browser,'" said Hachamovitch.

An architectural change has also shifted processing of online graphics from the host PC's main CPU to its dedicated GPU, or graphics chip. As a result, IE9 is considerably faster than Explorer 8, according to Microsoft.

Major brands and online destinations that have already rolled out IE9 compliant sites include Red Bull, Amazon, Quiksilver, and Lance Armstrong's Livestrong foundation.

Microsoft is betting that the changes will, at the very least, halt Explorer's precipitous market share decline. If the effort isn't successful, IE's share of the browser market could well be south of 50% by this time next year, given its current trajectory.

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