Although Microsoft recently touted the 100 millionth installation of Internet Explorer 7, Web measurement firms said that the new browser is simply being swapped out for older editions and hasn't had an impact on Firefox's continued climb.
"[As of] January 8th, we had the 100 millionth IE7 installation," said Tony Chor, an IE group program manager, in an entry on the team's blog. "Even more important than installations is usage. According to WebSideStory (the company we use to measure browser usage), as of this week, over 25% of all visitors to sites in the U.S. were using IE7, making IE7 the second most used browser after IE6.
"We expect these numbers to continue to rise as we complete our final localized versions, scale up AU [Automatic Updates] distribution, and with the consumer availability of Windows Vista on January 30, 2007," Chor added.
While Microsoft had the WebSideStory numbers correct, it didn't tell the whole story, says Geoff Johnston, an analyst with the Web metrics company. "[The growth of IE 7] seems to be exclusively at the expense of IE 6," says Johnston. "It's not eating into the Firefox share at all."
Firefox's share of the U.S. browser market, says Johnston, is at 14%, and has continued to grow each of the last three months. "I thought that IE 7 might flatten Firefox's growth, but it's not taken a hit from IE 7. All the movement there has been internal, from IE 6 users upgrading," he says.
Another Web metrics vendor, Net Applications, confirmed the switch to IE 7 in its most recent data, and also noted the continued slide of IE overall.
According to Net Applications, Internet Explorer accounted for 79.6% of all browsers used in December 2006, a drop from the 80.6% during the previous month. Firefox's use, meanwhile, measured 14% in December, up from 13.5% in November. Also gaining ground in the last month of 2006 was Apple's Safari, which climbed to 4.2% from 4%, and Opera, which saw its share increase from 0.7% to 0.9%.
Net Applications' data put IE 7's market share during December at 18.3%, up dramatically from November's 8.8%. But IE 6 lost more than IE 7 gained, dropping from 70.9% in November to 60.7% the next month.
The gain in IE 7 is largely due to Microsoft pushing the new browser to end users via Windows' Automatic Updates setting, which is usually reserved for downloading and installing security fixes on PCs. Microsoft began issuing IE 7 to Windows XP users through Automatic Updates in early November as part of a controversial scheme to get the new browser in as many hands as possible as quickly as possible.
In July, however, Microsoft posted a toolkit that lets users and enterprises indefinitely postpone IE 7's installation. The toolkit can be downloaded from the Microsoft Web site.
The impact of the automatic upgrade was easy to see when compared with the much slower uptake of Firefox 2.0, the browser Mozilla introduced in October 2006. In the same month that IE 7 more than doubled (from 8.8% to 18.3%), Firefox 2.0's share only climbed from 3.6% to 5.2%, notes Net Applications. Firefox 1.5 still accounts for the majority of Firefox users. Mozilla has considered, and postponed, an automatic update from Firefox 1.5 to 2.0; the auto upgrade is now scheduled for sometime this month.
Johnston wasn't confident that Microsoft would ever be able to make inroads on Firefox's growing share. "Once someone gets used to Firefox, especially its extensions, and unless they think IE 7 or IE 8 or whatever comes in the future is so much better, they're going to stay with Firefox," says Johnston.
"Maybe Microsoft's met its match with Firefox. Maybe it just can't compete against open-source and the whole world [as developers]."