Firefox gains at IE's expense in Europe

Loss of market share could have implications for Microsoft's future in Web services, says Mozilla Europe's president.

Mozilla's Web browser, Firefox, has gained on average an extra 3.1 percent of the market in 32 European countries in the past four months, according to French Web-monitoring company XiTi Monitor.

Since its launch, Firefox has been steadily gaining market share from the dominant browser, Microsoft's Internet Explorer. In the first week of July 2006, Firefox had 21.1 percent of the market. In the first week of July 2007, Firefox held 27.8 percent of the European market, according to XiTi Monitor's report.

"It's a nice way to get started on a Monday morning," said Tristan Nitot, president of Mozilla Europe. "I hope we continue to gain market share, as our goal is to promote choice. Monopoly leads to lack of innovation."

Although Microsoft still has 66.5 percent of the browser market across Europe, in certain countries Firefox has now become very popular--especially in Eastern Europe. In Slovenia, Firefox has 47.9 percent of the market, while the browser now has more than 39 percent market share in Poland, Hungary and Croatia.

Nitot said that a major factor in Firefox's success in countries like Slovenia and Poland was the support network that exists in them.

"There's a very active community there--there's active forum support online. Also, if you have a problem, people from the community will come to your business and fix any potential issues," Nitot said.

Microsoft should not ignore Firefox's market gains, Nitot said.

"I think it should be a cause for concern for them--our intention is to encourage Microsoft to get back to work and improve IE," he said. "We want a better Web experience for everybody."

Microsoft should also be concerned about the wider implications of the loss of browser market share as it makes hosted applications a bigger part of its business, said Nitot. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last week announced Microsoft's intention to move toward Web-based applications.

Nitot said that Microsoft faces a complex situation at the moment, as it tries to redefine itself as a Web-services, rather than a software, company.

"Microsoft has recognized that, if it wants to be successful in the future, it should move towards the Web applications space. In the short term this is going to hurt Windows and Office. It's a difficult situation to be in," Nitot said. "Also, how is it going to leverage those assets to be more successful in the Web scene?"

Microsoft denied that it was concerned either about Firefox gaining market share in Europe or difficulties in redefining itself as a Web services company.

"We're proud to see Windows remains the platform of choice, in part because it provides our customers with the widest range of both hardware and software options in the industry," a Microsoft representative wrote in an e-mailed statement.

"While we think IE is the choice of hundreds of millions of people and businesses around the world because of the unique value it provides, we certainly respect that some customers will choose alternative browsers. Alongside a variety of user interface improvements, we've also made significant investments in better security for IE 7. These features, along with our world-class customer support, continue to make IE a compelling choice for our customers."

IE has been and continues to be plagued by security problems. People found multiple bugs in the latest version of the browser, IE 7, in February this year. Security advisory company Secunia notes that there have been 10 advisories issued about IE 7 up to July 2007, one of which was "critical."

Tom Espiner of ZDNet UK reported from London.

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