Microsoft's IE snatches share for second straight month

Chrome falls for the first time in nearly two years, Firefox drops again

For the second straight month, Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) browser gained ground in the usage share race, a company manager said today.

According to Net Applications, the Web metrics firm whose data Microsoft cited, IE's gains came at the expense of both Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome, with the former posting its biggest one-month decline in more than a year while the latter's loss broke a string of 20 consecutive months of increases.

By the end of July, IE accounted for 60.7% of all browsers used globally, Net Applications' data revealed. The increase of four-tenths of a percentage point was the second month in a row that IE jumped, and after June's, was the second-highest increase recorded for the browser.

Microsoft has never seen two straight months of IE increases in Net Applications' numbers: Its occasional bumps have been single-month gains, with a return the next month to IE's long-term decline. IE's gains in July effectively turned back the clock to last March, when IE also owned a 60.7% share.

As it has the last three months, Microsoft used Net Applications' numbers to trumpet the success of its browser strategy. "To see two consecutive months worldwide is encouraging and promising," said Roger Capriotti, a product management lead on the IE team.

Capriotti also boasted of gains made by Microsoft's newest browser, IE8', repeating what other IE team members have said previously. "IE8 is the most widely-used and the fastest-growing browser," he said.

IE's overall gains were again due to IE8, the 2009 browser that's integrated with the also-surging Windows 7 . Globally, IE8 gained just over one percentage point to end the month with a 26.9% share. When the number for the browser's compatibility mode -- a feature that lets it properly render pages designed for older editions -- is taken into account, IE8 total usage share was 30.3%, the largest for any one browser edition.

In the U.S., IE8 did even better than its worldwide average, said Capriotti. "IE8 increased its U.S. share to 42.2%," he said, with a surge of almost 1.4 percentage points during July.

Capriotti acknowledged that Windows 7 's success has helped IE8, but argued that the browser had been doing well before that operating system launched last October. "Windows 7 has definitely had a halo effect," he said, "but we grew IE8 to a sizable number before Windows 7's release." By Net Applications' numbers, IE8 had climbed to 18.1% by October 2009.

But he refused to speculate on whether the two-month increase would be sustained, or whether the release of IE9 -- the next upgrade slated to ship in beta next month -- would maintain the momentum. His only comment: "You'll see great things from IE9."

Like last month, several browsers lost share to IE's surge.

Mozilla's Firefox slipped to 22.9%, a drop of nine-tenths of a percentage point, nearly the equal of the browser's record 1.1-point fall in May 2009. July's slide was not only the second-largest ever for the browser, but the third in a row and the sixth in the last eight months.

Firefox, once seemingly a lock to reach, then soar by the 25% milestone, now holds about the same share it did in August 2009, just a two months after the major upgrade Firefox 3.5.

More unusual was Chrome's dip in July. Google's browser lost one-tenth of one percentage point during the month to end at 7.1%. According to Net Applications, the decline was the first for Chrome since October 2008, the month after Google introduced its browser.

Chrome's increases were slowing before last month: In both May and June, Chrome's gains globally were significantly smaller than its 12-month average. And as early as May, Net Applications tracked a fall-off in Chrome's U.S. numbers, a fact that Microsoft used to claim its rival was already "in retreat."

Today, Capriotti declined to speculate about the reason for Chrome's July drop, saying that the numbers spoke for themselves. "Chrome picked up share in a short period of time, but it has slowed dramatically the last few months," he said.

Other browsers fared better than Firefox and Chrome.

Apple 's Safari gained two-tenths of a percentage point to end July at 5.1%, a record for the browser, while Opera Software's namesake climbed by two-tenths of a point to 2.5%, also a record.

Safari's share is actually larger than that of Mac OS X on the operating system side -- 5.1% for the browser, 5% for OS X. That, too, is a first, perhaps explained by the fact that although Safari is bundled with Apple's operating system, it's also available in a version for Windows XP, Vista and Windows 7.

While IE8 boosted Microsoft's overall share, other versions continued to slide. IE7, which debuted in 2006 alongside Windows Vista, lost four-tenths of a percentage point to end at a historical low of 11.4%. The even older IE6 -- which Microsoft is determined to kill -- fell two-tenths of a point to 17%, and still accounts for more than a quarter of all versions of IE in use.

"The battle [to drive IE6 into extinction] is definitely winnable," said Capriotti, talking about Microsoft's overt campaign to convince users to ditch the old browser.

Numbers for July from rival Web metrics firm StatCounter were significantly different from those of Net Applications. The Irish company pegged IE's global usage share at 52.7%, a drop of nearly two-tenths of a percentage point from June, and it had Firefox at 30.7% and Chrome at 9.9%, for a decline of one-half of a percentage point and an increase of six-tenths of a percentage point, respectively.

Net Applications uses data acquired from the 160 million unique visitors who browse the 40,000 Web sites it monitors for clients to calculate its usage share number. The firm's July browser usage share data is available on its site.