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Can Microsoft stop IE's market share slide?

Microsoft's Internet Explorer continues losing browser market share, as Firefox makes gains. Will this injure Redmond's efforts to become relevant on the Web?

The Web browser market has been undergoing tectonic shifts for the past six years, with Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) dropping 10 percentage points in market share every two years while Mozilla's Firefox gains 10 percentage points every two years. These trends are called out by Mozilla's Asa Dotzler, and they suggest that as early as January 2013 we could see Firefox surpass IE in market share if the trend continues:

Asa Dotzler (Data from Net Applications)

A larger version of the chart can be found here.

Firefox's growth raises all sorts of questions about how proprietary software vendors can and should compete with open-source products in the future, but for now it creates a massive problem for Microsoft. If Microsoft loses its grip on the Web browser market, will this also injure its efforts to become relevant on the Web?

Dotzler notes that "browser releases aren't having any major impact on the macro trends," which could suggest that Microsoft won't be able to stem the tide rising against IE simply by churning out a better browser. Instead, it may need to turn to plan B.

There is a plan B, right?

I'm not so sure. Historically, Microsoft would have dealt with such a slide in market share by tying products together such that competition was crippled but its market share was protected. With intense scrutiny from Europe and a renewed threat of such from U.S. regulators, Microsoft's wiggle room doesn't allow much monopolistic wiggling.

Microsoft, in other words, may be stuck with good old-fashioned competition, which doesn't bode well for it, as the Net Applications data suggests.

Follow me on Twitter @mjasay.