Navigator still king

Netscape Communications is still firmly on top of the Web browser market, although Microsoft's Internet Explorer is making steady gains, according to a survey released today from Zona Research.

Netscape Communications(NSCP) is still firmly on top of the Web browser market, although Microsoft's Internet Explorer is making steady gains on Navigator, according to a survey released today from Zona Research.

Browser market share figures have become one of the chief score cards in the battle between Microsoft and Netscape. Determined to take away Netscape's early, sizable lead, Microsoft is waging a fierce promotional campaign to build up its market share by giving the IE browser away for free and offering IE users free access to for-pay Web sites such as the Wall Street Journal and ESPNet SportsZone.

Zona's browser census, which polled 150 technology managers at U.S. corporations, indicates that 83 percent of respondents use Netscape Navigator as their primary browser. Internet Explorer's market share has more than doubled since February, with 8 percent of respondents claiming it as their primary browser, according to the survey.

Ironically, Wall Street downgraded Netscape's stock today, causing it to plunge ten percent in morning trading. Bruce Smith, a Merrill Lynch analyst downgraded Netscape stock to "neutral" from "accumulate" in the medium-term and "buy" in the long-term, stating, "We believe that we have underestimated Microsoft and that the window of opportunity for Netscape to partner is closing much more rapidly than originally thought."

The downgrading results in speculation about Microsoft's most serious attempt yet to grab market share from Netscape. The battle is heating up, indeed: both companies plan to release beta versions of upgraded browsers before year's end.

Stephen Audtiore, president of Zona Research, said that Internet Explorer's market share gains came mostly at the expense of third-party browsers, such as NCSA Mosaic and NetManage's WebSurfer.

The survey figures are roughly equivalent to a browser census performed by Dataquest in May of this year.

The August survey also shows that many companies use both browsers, which indicates that information services have not yet settled on a standard, companywide browser, Auditore said today.

"The enterprise has not standardized on either browser," said Auditore. "Microsoft has made some fairly steady gains since the beginning of the year."

Zona also has posted previous browser surveys on its Web site.

Today, Netscape also released a survey of browser statistics at 25 Web sites that showed Navigator with 81.5 percent of the browser market and Internet Explorer with 9.8 percent.

Last week, Microsoft said two Web sites that track browser statistics have shown marked increases in Internet Explorer market share. One of them, Interse gave the Microsoft browser 29 percent, up from 15.8 percent in July.

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