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Apache zooms away from Microsoft's Web server

The open-source software for sending out Web pages held on to its market lead by growing far more rapidly in 2003 than its nearest rival, Microsoft's IIS, according to a new survey.

Apache grew far more rapidly in 2003 than its nearest rival, Microsoft's Internet Information Services, according to a new survey--meaning that the open-source software remains by far the most widely used Web server on the Internet.

Netcraft, a U.K. Web services company, found that the number of sites that use Apache to send out Web pages rose from about 22 million sites (out of a total of about 35 million) in January 2003 to about 31 million (out of about 46 million) in January 2004--an increase of about 40 percent. In the same period, IIS remained roughly flat, declining from 9,739,069 to 9,675,504.

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Apache's market share grew from about 62 percent to about 67 percent, while that of IIS dropped from 27 percent to 21 percent.

The figures represent a consistent trend, according to Netcraft director Mike Prettejohn, who said Apache has grown more quickly than its competitors for several years.

"Apache has done well, because it is very stable, its security record is very good, it is reasonably straightforward to administer--and it is free," Prettejohn said, though he said cost was not a dominant factor in Apache's success.

In a related trend last year, several large domain-hosting companies--which host millions of inactive, or "parked," domain names--switched from IIS to other systems. used Apache before switching to IIS, and in 2003, the company switched back to Apache. Likewise, Network Solutions switched from IIS back to Sun Microsystems software. Network Solutions' move alone resulted in a jump in Sun's market share last year, but this share remains small, at about 3 percent.

The overall figures don't reflect an important fact: Microsoft's strength in the market for Secure Sockets Layer servers, which are commonly used by e-commerce providers. Netcraft's survey found that Microsoft powers about 49 percent of SSL servers. It is followed by Apache, with about 36 percent, and Sun, with about 3.5 percent.

Microsoft has kept about 50 percent of the SSL market since 1996 or before, Prettejohn said, but the remaining half of the market has been shifting in Apache's favor.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.