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Is Google Chrome's Rise Limiting Firefox's Future?

Internet Explorer continues to lose market share, but gains by Google Chrome threaten to slow Firefox down.

August was a cruel month for Microsoft Internet Explorer, which saw its global market share decline to 66.97% in August, a loss of 0.71 percentage points, according to NetApplications.

Firefox gained 0.51 percentage points, reaching a global market share of 22.98%. Apple's Safari market share remained unchanged, at 4.07%. Opera returned to where it was in April, with 2.04% market share. And Google Chrome gained 0.25 percentage points to reach a market share of 2.84%.

On the face of it, August appears to have been a pretty good month for Firefox, having gained almost three-quarters of the percentage points that Microsoft Internet Explorer lost.

But Firefox's market share is lower now than it was in March or April, when its market share was measured to be 23.30% and 23.84% respectively. And in the months that followed -- May (22.75%), June (22.43%), and July (22.47%) -- the browser's market share remained flat.

Perhaps more worrisome, Google confirms that it has struck a deal with Sony to make Chrome the default browser on some of Sony's PCs.

"Users' response to Google Chrome has been outstanding, and we're continuing to explore ways to make Chrome accessible to even more people," a Google spokesperson said in an e-mail. "We are in the process of testing one such channel with Sony."

Google is also seeking to make additional distribution deals of this sort, which could create even more Chrome users, potentially to the detriment of Firefox.

Ken Kovash, Mozilla's manager of analytics, maintains that Firefox usage continues to grow. Pointing to past data from NetApplications, he says that in previous years, most of Firefox's growth came during the September through January period. He attributes this to people returning to work after summer holidays, students returning to school, and purchasing patterns during the fall and the holiday season.

He also notes that different sources of market share statistics bear consideration too.

StatCounter, for instance, shows Firefox with a global market share of a 31.28% at the beginning of August, an all-time high for the browser. Firefox slipped to 30.95% at the beginning of September. But StatCounter's figures do not suggest a stagnant period of several months like the statistics gathered by NetApplications.

"While the browser market has exhibited increased competition, Firefox continues to thrive," said Kovash in an e-mail. "Firefox usage has grown considerably since the beginning of 2009 and several reports of browser market share confirm Firefox's increasing global adoption."

If Firefox is still growing, the question then becomes how long can that growth continue? Microsoft has to be tired of losing Internet Explorer users and certainly hopes the arrival of Windows 7 will help staunch the bleeding. Google continues to develop Chrome and any distribution deal it makes with PC vendors spells trouble for Firefox. And Apple appears to have no interest in allowing Fennec, the mobile version of Firefox, to compete against Safari on its iPhone.

It's not the end of the road for Firefox, but the Mozilla community is likely to have to work harder to continue at its present pace.

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