Internet Explorer Gains Ground on Firefox

The open-source Firefox browser may be the new kid in town, but Microsoft is out to show that the sheriff is back with a vengeance, according to some analysts. New figures from Web monitoring firm Net Applications reveal that Microsoft regained some ground from alternate browsers — including Firefox — last month.

In July, 87.2 percent of Web site visitors used Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, up from 86.56 percent the month before. Firefox, IE’s closest rival, saw its share decline from a record high 8.71 percent in June to 8.07 percent this month.

So what’s putting a damper on Firefox’s momentum? Could it be that the recent flood of security patches has scared off would-be Firefox converts? Or is it more likely that the browser side of the open-source movement is faddish and is beginning to wane?

Credit Where Credit is Due

Wilcox said Firefox’s apparent slip may not be as much about security flaws — all browsers fall prey to negative publicity regarding vulnerabilities — and open-source is definitely not a passing fad.

Instead of placing blame on Mozilla, Wilcox suggested that Microsoft deserves some credit. Microsoft recently released a new Web browser into beta and that application is in the hands of developers. When Vista is released to the general population, consumers are in for a new Internet Explorer experience.

“After years of not updating its browser, we’ve finally reached the point where it’s catch up time for Microsoft [in terms of browser technology],” Wilcox said. “The sheriff is back in town.”

New Look Microsoft

Indeed, Firefox has been gaining ground on Internet Explorer for many quarters — and its supporters have made no bones about boasting that fact. But analysts saw the day coming when Microsoft would rally its high-tech troops and release a new version to be reckoned with.

Wilcox said it’s not as if there is a market reversal. Firefox may have stolen some market share from Internet Explorer, but it never took the market lead.

“What it really comes down to is who is using what browser. Clearly, while data show that many businesses and consumers are now using Firefox, the dominant browser is still Internet Explorer,” Wilcox said. “Microsoft is the incumbent and the incumbent has a new look.”

Tour de Web?

Wilcox compares the Web browser race to the Tour de France. He pictures Microsoft as Lance Armstrong — the champion who is 50 miles ahead of its nearest competitor, Mozilla — and the competitor closed the lead by just a few miles.

“There’s still a long lead between first and second place. Put into perspective, Firefox can continue gaining users, but Microsoft is still ahead by a huge margin and now it is beginning to recapture users who may have moved over to Firefox,” Wilcox said.

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