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Study: People increasingly using IE

A new study confirms one of the trends at the heart of the landmark antitrust suit against Microsoft: the company is running away with the browser market.

On the heels of the release of the findings of fact in the landmark antitrust suit against Microsoft, a study confirms one of the trends the judge pointed out: Microsoft is running away with the browser market.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer Browsing habits browser is now the choice for 64 percent of corporate users, up from 59 percent in April and 40 percent a year ago, according to a study by Zona Research. That compares with 36 percent choosing Netscape's Communicator browser, down from 41 percent in April and 60 percent a year ago. America Online acquired Netscape this year.

The IE total includes the browser that comes with the AOL proprietary online service, but relatively few enterprises use the AOL online service.

"The battle is pretty much over," said Zona analyst Clay Ryder. "There are two players in this market, and when it started there were nine. We're also seeing that this is a Coke and Pepsi battle--that it's not terribly germane anymore. Now the battle is over content, not access technology."

Zona's numbers show a trend toward companies mandating the use of IE over Communicator for their employees. Sixty-nine percent specified IE for the October study, up from 62 percent in April. Communicator saw its corporate policy share drop to 31 percent from 38 percent.

Outside of work, users have a few more options. For one, the prevalence of the AOL browser with the IE engine increases. In addition, people have the option of using more than one browser, though Zona has seen that number slip somewhat to 1.34 browsers per person in the October study to 1.5 browsers per person in previous studies.

Asked which browsers they had used in the last 30 days at home, consumers said their choices had not changed significantly from one year ago. For the third quarter of 1999, 48 percent used Communicator, down only a point from the third quarter 1998. Thirty-three percent used Internet Explorer, up from 27 percent in 1998; and 23 percent used AOL with IE, unchanged from the year before.

These numbers underscore the value of AOL's trump card: the ability to switch its rendering engine to Communicator and to throw Communicator back into the majority position, at least among consumers at home.

Claiming it marked the "end of an era," Zona said this would be its last study of the browser market.

"The battle for the hearts and minds of the browser market coalesced around two dominant vendors," the firm said in a statement. "In striking similarity to the cola wars of the 1980s, shelves that primarily were filled with a preponderance of competing brands have all but given way to the reality of a Coke- and Pepsi-dominated marketplace."

Zona is not alone among Puppet masters: Who controls the  Net industry analysts in abandoning the browser war as yesterday's struggle for what has become, in Zona's words, a "zero-dollar market." Both Microsoft and Netscape give away their browsers free of charge.

But many industry observers and players stress that the consequences of the war remain as crucial as ever for the future of the Web.

They argue that even if Netscape can't recapture its dominant position in the market, it cannot cede complete control to Microsoft, which would amount to handing over the keys that control most people's access to the Web.

And although America Online has publicly distanced itself from the browser war since acquiring Netscape, sources close to the company concede that hanging on to that market share remains a high priority in AOL's ongoing battle with Microsoft.

AOL is likely to replace the IE rendering engine with Communicator at some point, sources close to the company have said. To do that, Netscape must first complete new browser technology that is more easily separated into small parts, or components. Netscape's upcoming browser has encountered delays.