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IE8 coming in 2009, but will it be late to the Firefox party?

Microsoft is finally lugging out version 8 of Internet Explorer, but its delay has given the open-source competition room to run.

CNET's Ina Fried reports that Microsoft Internet Explorer 8 won't surface until 2009. With a release candidate not scheduled until the first quarter of 2009, the final release won't hit until the second (or possibly even the third) quarter. Microsoft released a beta of IE8 back in March 2008. Roughly a year later, we should see the full release in action.

By that time, will anyone care?

Yes, Microsoft continues to dominate the browser market with 71.3 percent market share, according to Net Applications, so, the majority of Internet users will continue to use IE. But that's not my question. My question is whether they will care.

Using Firefox is an affirmative act: you have to download it. You have to want it. IE, on the other hand, finds its way to end-customers through preinstalls, Windows Update, and other means. People use IE by default.

The good news for Firefox? More and more people are making that "affirmative act," while IE usage continues to slide, again according to Net Applications:

Net Applications

With Web chatter mounting around Firefox 4, which is also expected to hit in 2009, I think we'll see Firefox top 25 percent market share by the end of 2009, as well as increased competition from Google Chrome (perhaps hitting 3 percent market share in 2009).

Microsoft no longer competes in a vacuum: it has real competition, and that competition is innovating and iterating product releases faster than Microsoft has for some time in IE. The good news for everyone is that Microsoft responds well to competition. The bad news is that Microsoft needs more than inertia to drive IE adoption going forward.