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IE shrinks in '09 but maintains dominance

Firefox and Google Chrome enjoy a healthy 2009 with decent gains in market share, while Internet Explorer loses more of its audience.

Changes in 2009 market share for major browsers
Changes in 2009 market share for browsers Net Applications

Last year brought market share growth for all major browsers except Microsoft's Internet Explorer, according to Net Applications' annual industry report released Wednesday.

The year ended with Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome enjoying gains of about 3 percentage points, while Apple's Safari climbed a single percentage point. Opera stayed relatively flat with a gain of 0.23 points, but IE saw a decline of nearly 8 percentage points.

Though IE's popularity may have sunk, the Microsoft browser still boasts a greater market share than all the other browsers combined with 62.69 percent of the audience.

Firefox now has a 24.61 percent share, leaving Chrome with 4.63 percent, Safari with 4.46 percent, and Opera with 2.4 percent.

Internet Explorer's gradual loss of market share occurred despite Microsoft's launch of IE 8. The new version may not be able to stem the tide, according to Net Applications. For years, IE faced virtually no competition, so Microsoft had few reasons to enhance or innovate as market leader. As Firefox usage started to climb and Chrome joined the ranks, Microsoft released IE 8 and hoped that its new features would halt the browser's decline. But with more browsers in the market, competition is tighter than ever. And so far, IE 8 hasn't had much impact on recapturing lost market share.

Microsoft also now faces a cloudy browser environment in Europe. In 2007, Norway-based Opera Software pressed the European Commission to investigate Microsoft over IE's alleged browser monopoly on the desktop. To placate the EC, Redmond was forced to design a Choice Screen that displays a list of 12 different browsers that people can install and set up as the default. Though the effect of the Choice Screen remains to be seen, Net Applications believes it will significantly alter browser market share in Europe.

Net Applications

For relative newcomer Chrome, 2009 was a banner year. After its unveiling in late 2008, Google's browser took awhile to catch on but then saw its use double over the first half of 2009. Chrome, which trailed Safari in market share virtually all of last year, finally surpassed Apple's browser in December for the first time, making it the third most popular browser.

Though Chrome's 4.63 percent share of the market is still far behind that of second place Firefox, Mozilla now needs to look at not just catching up with IE but at holding off Google's up and comer, Net Applications said.

Safari's gains have come about mostly as the Mac OS has grown in popularity. With the debut of Windows 7 OS in October, Windows seems to have halted some of the loss in market share to Apple, notes Net Applications. But Safari still grew throughout the year, especially in December, thanks in large part to its use on mobile devices. Mobile browsers now account for 1.3 percent of all Web browsing.