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Apple Trick Triples Safari Market Share

Using its software update service to offer a new product to millions of Windows users was risky, given that the unusual tactic annoyed some people.
Apple's ploy of pushing the latest version of the Safari Web browser to Windows users through the company's automatic update mechanism paid off, resulting in a threefold increase in market share, a Web metrics firm said Thursday.

As of April 18, Safari 3.1, which was released one month earlier, had a 0.21% share, according to researchers at Net Applications. Safari 3.0, which had been released about a year earlier, reached a peak of 0.07% in February. Net Applications gets its numbers by tracking browsers accessing Web sites.

Apple's decision to use its software update service to offer a new product to millions of Windows users instead of just an upgrade was risky, given that the unusual tactic annoyed some people and sparked criticism by others.

When Apple first pushed Safari 3.1 to users, the company labeled it as an update with the option to install pre-selected. A couple of weeks ago, the Mac and iPod maker started clearly listing the software as new, separating it from updates for those applications already on the users' computers, such as iTunes and QuickTime. In addition, the automatic-update tool started giving users the option of turning off the service.

The change followed sharp criticism that Apple was sneaking Safari onto desktops and notebooks. Among the critics was John Lilly, chief executive of Mozilla, which makes the Firefox browser. Lilly likened Apple to hackers trying to insert malicious code into downloads. "This is wrong, and borders on malware distribution practices," he said in a blog post.

Despite the boost in share, Safari remains a minor player on Windows. Microsoft's Internet Explorer dominates, followed by Firefox. The latter, however, has been making gains. In the corporate market, Firefox's share nearly doubled to 18% in 2007, while IE's overall share fell by 10%, according to Forrester Research. Meanwhile, Apple has had other troubles with Safari 3.1. The company last month issued a security patch that plugged a widely reported vulnerability. Using a zero-day vulnerability, researchers from Independent Security Evaluators managed to compromise a MacBook Air.