Growth rate slips for Firefox usage

The rate at which people are putting the browser into action is slowing, but IE's market share continues to dip.

Paul Festa Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Paul Festa
covers browser development and Web standards.
Paul Festa
4 min read
New research shows the growth rate of open-source browser Firefox is slowing, while Microsoft's browser market share continues to dip.

Two tracking surveys released Monday showed that Microsoft's Internet Explorer Web browser has dipped below 90 percent market share.

IE, which comes preinstalled on the vast majority of computers, had already dipped below the 90 percent threshold in a November survey by OneStat, a Dutch Web metrics firm. At the time, Microsoft pointed to WebSideStory's results, which showed it was still above 90 percent.

Surfers warm to Firefox

Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer is gradually losing ground to open-source newcomer Firefox.

Usage (percent)
Browser Dec. 3 Jan. 14 Feb. 18
91.8 90.3 89.9
Firefox 4.1 5.0 5.7
2.8 2.6 2.5
Others** 1.3 2.1 1.9
* Excluding Firefox
** Including Safari (boosted figure for January after security update) and Opera
Source: WebSideStory

With Monday's reports, WebSideStory's data indicated that IE had indeed dipped a hair below that psychologically important marker and was used to access surveyed sites 89.9 percent of the time.

Firefox, the Mozilla Foundation's open-source browser, has put Microsoft on the defensive by garnering nearly 27 million downloads since its November final release. Microsoft this month reversed itself and said it would release IE 7 with the next update of Windows XP. Previously, the company had said upgrades to IE would come only as part of the next major version of Windows, code-named Longhorn.

Microsoft and Mozilla were not immediately available for comment.

WebSideStory, based in San Diego, said that while Firefox continues to penetrate the market at a rapid clip, its growth rate has slowed in recent weeks.

Firefox has seen its U.S. growth rate for actual usage fall by nearly half since its debut, according to the measurement firm.

The browser's market share, which has increased rapidly overall, has begun to grow at a slower pace in the past month. During the five-week period leading up to Feb. 18, Firefox had a 15 percent growth rate, compared with a 34 percent increase within the same time frame after its debut, according to the study.

"This is probably to be expected as we move beyond the early-adopter segment," Jeff Lunsford, WebSideStory's chief executive, said in a statement.

The statistics are based on the number of users who have not only downloaded the browser but who have installed it and are using it to view the Web sites that WebSideStory tracks.

WebSideStory released its data for the United States only. But the company also tracks browser activity in nations around the world, where the market share battle varies significantly.

In China, for example, Firefox accounts for about 1.1 percent of active use, compared with 98.5 percent for IE. Mozilla's share in Japan and South Korea isn't much better.

But in Germany, Firefox ferried 18.8 percent of traffic to Web sites, compared with 73 percent for IE. WebSideStory's numbers indicate that the open-source browser does better, on the whole, in Europe than it does in the United States or Asia.

"It really varies widely from country to country," said Geoff Johnston, an analyst with WebSideStory. "Asia has always loved Microsoft's products, while some European countries have been just the opposite, and the U.S. has always has been kind of in the middle. It has something to do with cultural preferences."

Since its debut, Firefox has grabbed nearly 5.7 percent of the U.S. market share for browsers. Microsoft's IE, meanwhile, has seen its market share fall three percentage points in that time.

"In December, it seemed Firefox was a lock to reach 10 percent (market share) by mid-2005, ahead of the reported year-end goal of the Mozilla Foundation," Lunsford said. "Given the latest growth rates, the year-end target still appears attainable, but a midyear achievement is unlikely."

WebSideStory said Firefox's slower growth was par for the course.

"Firefox had a huge spike and now the pace has tapered off, but that isn't shocking to anyone," said WebSideStory's Johnston. "Whenever a product is released you're going to see that kind of spike. If you're them, you're really thrilled that the growth is still double-digit."

WebSideStory said its findings, over time, were revealing a significant pattern of movement toward Firefox.

"The news in June was that Microsoft had never moved backwards and now it had," Johnston said. "In September, the news was that the pace of attrition was not slowing, which was shocking. It wasn't a blip. That three-to-four month trend has extended to eight and 10 months. So now we have a full-fledged phenomenon and people are taking Firefox seriously."

The interest in Firefox has been substantial. The Mozilla Foundation, for example, raised more than $250,000 in the first 10 days of a fund-raising campaign, which it used to place full-page ads in The New York Times to herald the debut of Firefox 1.0.

OneStat.com said that since November, IE's worldwide usage has fallen 1.62 percentage points to 87.3 percent market share. Firefox, meanwhile, increased by one percentage point to an 8.5 percent global market share.

"It seems that global usage share of Mozilla's Firefox is still increasing and the total global usage share of Microsoft's Internet Explorer is still decreasing," Niels Brinkman, OneStat co-founder, said in a statement.