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Browser vendors squabble over numbers

The latest weapon in the browser war between Microsoft and Netscape: numbers.

Microsoft wants to prove to itself by the end of this year that Internet Explorer can catch up to Netscape Communications' Navigator and today tallied up its progress for the first time.

Netscape has also recently been counting its users, but the figures being touted by the two companies unfortunately add up to apples and oranges, making real comparisons impossible. Since browsers can be downloaded at will and without registering the software, real efforts to compare are more of an exercise in marketing than anything else.

But that isn't stopping Microsoft and Netscape from trying to lob numbers at each other.

Microsoft Wednesday said that 25 million copies of Internet Explorer are in circulation, including copies of the browser downloaded from the Internet and distributed through new Windows 95 PCs and Microsoft Plus Packs. It also counts every time that a version of the browser is downloaded, even if the same user downloads three or four copies, said Yusuf Mehdi, group product manager for Internet Explorer.

Netscape, on the other hand, says its figure of 38 million counts only real users of Navigator and factors out multiple downloads by tracking Internet Protocol addresses and eliminating multiple requests for the software from the same IP address. Further, Netscape claims that this figure makes Navigator the most popular PC application ever.

Microsoft's Mehdi declined to estimate how many people are actually using Internet Explorer, but said that tracking users of browser software is extremely difficult and that Netscape's 38 million figure is probably inaccurate.

"There aren't that many users on the Web," Mehdi said. "Those are very high numbers."

Microsoft does concede that it's still trailing Navigator in market share. According to its own random telephone research, Navigator has 50 percent of the browser market, while Internet Explorer has between seven and ten percent.

Other, less self-interested, observers agree that Netscape's number seems out of whack.

"There's no way in hell they could have that [many users]," said Clay Ryder, senior industry analyst at Zona Research. "When we last put numbers together we had somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 million IP-capable desktops."

But Netscape stands firm. "We feel very confident with our numbers. Otherwise our legal department wouldn't have let us send them out," said a Netscape spokeswoman.

Independent market researcher Dataquest estimates that Navigator commands 85 percent of the browser market, while Internet Explorer has 7.5 percent.

Related stories:
War of the browsers rages on
Ballmer: Navigator a threat to Windows
Microsoft VP Steve Ballmer speaks