Internet Explorer staved off rival browsers on personal computers in the first month of 2012, but a new battlefield is emerging where Microsoft has virtually no presence today: mobile.
Among personal computers, IE reclaimed a chunk the global browser usage, rising from 51.9 percent in December to 53 percent in January, according to new statistics from Net Applications.
However, while browsing with desktops and laptops dominates, mobile devices are catching up. Smartphones and tablets accounted for an all-time high of 8.8 percent of browsing in January, up from 7.7 percent the month earlier.
And on mobile, Microsoft's presence is close to nothing right now. The mobile version of IE9, which ships with Windows Phone, accounted for 0.2 percent of mobile browser usage in January, Net Applications said. Adding in earlier mobile versions of IE brings that up to 0.3 percent, matching Amazon's new Silk browser used in its Android-based Kindle Fire tablets.
For comparison, Apple's iOS leads here, with 54.9 percent of usage. Opera Mini at 19.6 percent is in second place and overall shrinking gradually. And Google's Android browser is generally rising and reached 17.8 percent.
The rise of tablets means these statistics could look different a year from now. Tablets, with their relatively large screens, are in many ways are used like personal computers when it comes to browsing. And tablets are less likely to be used on the road than mobile phones that easily fit in a pocket or purse. One more big change: in coming months, the tablet category will include Windows 8 devices that blur the boundaries with PCs even more.
On traditional personal computers, Chrome has been on its way to pushing aside Firefox for the No. 2 spot, but the trend was interrupted in January. Firefox dropped from 21.8 percent to 20.9 percent, while Chrome dropped from 19.1 percent to 18.9 percent. Apple's Safari slipped a smidgen from 5.0 percent to 4.9 percent.
Microsoft is keen to replace IE6 with IE9 and, when Windows 8 arrives later this year, IE10. IE8 is still the single most used browser version, at 27.9 percent, but IE9 is rising and in January reached 11.6 percent.
Global usage of IE6, the browser that's moved from dominant to derided over its decade-long history, slipped in usage to 7.7 percent in January, according to the Net Applications data that Microsoft publishes at its IE6 Countdown site.
Microsoft uses the site to track IE6's demise and encourage people to move away. Far and away the biggest holdout remains China, where IE6 usage remains about the same at 25.2 percent.
Net Applications measurements are based on its network of 40,000 Web sites using its analytics software. The company monitors daily usage from individuals making about 160 million visits to Web pages per month. The company adjusts its results to account for discrepancies in its own data and the Central Intelligence Agency's measurements of country-by-country Internet usage.
Another site, StatCounter, also monitors global browser usage. It measures aggregate browser usage on its network of sites, not trying to weight by country use or to screen by unique users. So in the case where an individual loaded 25 pages from a Web site on a particular day, Net Applications would tally it only as one individual for that day, but StatCounter would count 25 page views.
By StatCounter's measurements, IE has slipped down well below 40 percent of usage and Chrome has surpassed Firefox and is almost at 30 percent of usage.
Correction at 5:57 a.m. PT: The year referenced in the first paragraph has been fixed.