IE reverses usage share slide; Microsoft cheers

After years of dwindling usage, Microsoft's browser has, at least for now, stemmed losses. And the gain comes at Firefox's expense.

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read
This chart shows the changing usage of the five top browsers; the darker colors are from earlier and the lightest color shows percentages for June 2010.
This chart shows the changing usage of the five top browsers; the darker colors are from earlier and the lightest color shows percentages for June 2010. data from Net Applications, chart by Stephen Shankland/CNET

Internet Explorer has reversed a years-long slide in browser usage, at least for the month of June, reclaiming share at the expense of Firefox.

IE increased usage from 59.8 percent to 60.3 percent, according to new statistics from Net Applications, an analytics company that monitors browser usage across a large network Web sites. It was buoyed by increasing usage of IE8 that offset the decline in IE7--and by what Web developers no doubt hope will be only a temporary pause in the decline of the despised IE6.

The change in fortunes was significant enough that Microsoft couldn't resist crowing about IE's progress in a blog post Thursday. "We certainly don't judge our business on just two months of data, but the direction here is encouraging," said Ryan Gavin, senior director of business and marketing for Internet Explorer.

Although IE has long been scorned by Web developers for its out-of-date features and its lack of compliance with Web standards, Microsoft is working hard to change the browser's image. The IE9 Platform Preview bare-bones browser prototypes, of which three have been released so far, are steadily accumulating modern features in HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), CSS (Cascading Style Sheets), Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG), and JavaScript. And Windows, despite the browser ballot that in Europe presents Windows users with a choice of browsers besides IE as a result of an antitrust settlement, remains a powerful means of distributing the software.

Some of IE8's gains probably can be ascribed to the growing use of Windows 7, which ships with that browser and is showing some signs of finally being a successor to Windows XP that people actually are embracing. Net Applications showed that the browsing usage of Windows 7 climbed from 12.7 percent to 13.7 percent from May to June; Windows Vista dropped from 15.2 percent to 14.7 percent; and Windows XP dropped from 62.6 percent to 62.4 percent.

Meanwhile, IE's biggest rival, Firefox, dropped in usage from 24.3 percent to 23.8 percent. And third-place Chrome climbed from 7.0 percent to 7.2 percent from May to June.

In fourth place, Apple's Safari rose from 4.8 percent to 4.9 percent, and Opera slipped from 2.4 percent to 2.3 percent.

The browser battles are shifting in direction dramatically as mobile phones and devices such as the iPad extend Web usage well beyond PCs. And things are very different on mobile devices.

Opera has years of experience on mobile devices, and indeed its Opera Mini version comes close to the regular computer version of Opera in terms of browser usage. Apple's Safari works on iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches, and Apple at least partially bans other browsers.

Mozilla is working on a mobile version of Firefox for Android and high-end Nokia phones and just submitted a tool to the Apple App Store it hopes will keep the desktop version of Firefox in sync with Apple iOS-based browsers. Google lets other browsers on devices with the Android operating system, but it comes with a browser as well.