IE Market Share... and Why It Matters

The world was stunned this past week by reports that the Internet Explorer development team was finally caught in a "spider hole" near an unassuming farmhouse in Redmond. They're actually continuing development on IE, and are interested in what people think. [see IE Storm Watch for the sordid details]

Good news. I think IE was in greater danger than a lot of folks realize.

Exhibit A: Market Share

Take a look at IE total usage from March 2003 to June 2004 - it dropped almost 7%. Take a look at Mozilla usage over that same period - it rose roughly 7%.

Year Month IE 6 IE 5 IE 5 & 6 O 7 Moz NN 3 NN 4 NN 7
2004 June 72.80% 8.60% 81.40% 2.30% 11.40% 0.30% 0.30% 1.40%
2004 May 72.60% 9.20% 81.80% 2.20% 11.00% 0.30% 0.30% 1.40%
2004 April 72.40% 10.10% 82.50% 2.10% 10.30% 0.30% 0.30% 1.40%
2004 March 72.10% 10.70% 82.80% 2.10% 9.60% 0.40% 0.40% 1.40%
2004 February 71.50% 11.50% 83.00% 2.20% 9.00% 0.40% 0.40% 1.50%
2004 January 71.30% 12.80% 84.10% 2.10% 8.20% 0.40% 0.50% 1.50%
2003 November 71.20% 13.70% 84.90% 1.90% 7.20% 0.50% 0.50% 1.60%
2003 September 69.70% 16.90% 86.60% 1.80% 6.20% 0.60% 0.60% 1.50%
2003 July 66.90% 20.30% 87.20% 1.70% 5.70% 0.60% 0.60% 1.50%
2003 May 65.00% 22.70% 87.70% 1.40% 4.60% 1.00% 0.90% 1.40%
2003 March 63.40% 24.60% 88.00% 1.20% 4.20% 0.90% 1.10% 1.40%

source:, IE 5&6 total column and emphasis added

Note that this is not accounted for by a shift to non-Windows platforms:

Year Month Win XP W2000 Win 98 Win NT Win 95 Windows Total Linux Mac
2004 June 51.20% 29.60% 8.00% 2.00% 0.30% 91.10% 2.90% 2.50%
2004 May 51.00% 29.60% 8.20% 2.00% 0.30% 91.10% 2.90% 2.50%
2004 April 49.70% 30.20% 8.70% 2.20% 0.30% 91.10% 2.70% 2.50%
2004 March 48.00% 31.10% 9.40% 2.40% 0.40% 91.30% 2.60% 2.40%
2004 February 46.00% 32.80% 9.50% 2.90% 0.40% 91.60% 2.60% 2.50%
2004 January 44.10% 33.60% 10.40% 3.00% 0.40% 91.50% 2.70% 2.40%
2003 December 42.60% 35.20% 10.50% 3.40% 0.40% 92.10% 2.70% 2.30%
2003 November 42.60% 36.30% 10.90% 3.50% 0.40% 93.70% 2.60% 2.20%
2003 October 39.40% 37.80% 11.50% 4.00% 0.50% 93.20% 2.50% 2.10%
2003 September 38.00% 37.90% 12.10% 4.10% 0.50% 92.60% 2.40% 2.00%
2003 August 36.30% 39.90% 12.60% 4.60% 0.50% 93.90% 2.40% 2.00%
2003 July 33.90% 40.60% 12.60% 5.30% 0.60% 93.00% 2.30% 1.90%
2003 June 32.80% 40.40% 13.40% 5.40% 0.60% 92.60% 2.30% 1.80%
2003 May 31.40% 41.00% 13.90% 5.80% 0.70% 92.80% 2.20% 1.80%
2003 April 30.80% 40.90% 14.70% 6.00% 0.70% 93.10% 2.10% 1.80%
2003 March 29.10% 41.90% 14.80% 6.60% 0.80% 93.20% 2.20% 1.80%

source:, Windows total column and emphasis added

This is significant because it shows Windows userage staying relatively constant, but IE usage dropping - mostly shifting to Mozilla.

Exhibit B: The Nerd Vote

Now, I know isn't 100% Microsoft cultists, but it's about as Microsoft friendly as Slashdot is Linux-prone, right? When you see developers who like developing against the latest and greatest Microsoft has to offer talking about how cool Firefox is, you need to worry about more than numbers. These folks are representative of the technology influencers who should be pushing IE for their projects, supporting it on their friends' computers, etc. That's not the case. When my friend had trouble with IE 5.5 (Mac), I told him he should dump it and move to Firefox - MS isn't even releasing IE 6 for Mac.

Why is this happening?
1. It's not Microsoft, it's something new to play with, etc.
Nothing you can do there, but this is a small percentage of folks who probably would play with Lynx if it wasn't Mozilla

2. Usability enhancements like tabbed browsing, etc.

If they work and are useful long term, features like this get end users to click the "Okay, you can be my default browser" button, but they probably won't try it out unless the techie influencers are pushing them to try it out. Which leads to...

3. Standards support
It's not just a slogan. Really. Most developers are happy to stay with what works, but when you're the one making their lives difficult they get vindictive. Remember back when Netscape was the pariah browser we had to support, and we couldn't wait for it to just die so we could stop dealing with it's annoyances? I think a lot of folks do.

Look around at some of the cool HTML / web design sites -,,,,, you start to pick up on the fact that IE is making it hard to design nice looking and usable websites. IE is becoming Netscape 4.7.

It's no secret - web developers are unhappy with IE:

Why should Microsoft care?
Microsoft doesn't make any money off IE, right? Well, no. And yet, public perception of IE is very important to Microsoft's bottom line. Consider:

1. IE is one of the most frequently used Microsoft applications
It's one of the few applications that even runs on other operating systems. It's one of the first programs computer users get familiar with. That means that it has the opportunity to form opinions of Microsoft quality which users will carry forward to future software attitudes and purchases

2. It just looks bad for Microsoft to crush the competition and then stop developing
Enough said.

3. It could precipitate the kind of Open Source badness Microsoft doesn't want to think about
If you're mostly browsing the internet and doing simple document editing, you could easily get by on Firefox, Thunderbird, and You really could. Most people don't because they're running Windows already, and it's easy enough to use the Windows applications if you're running Windows.

But imagine that a user's shifted browsers because the tabls look cool and hip websites are telling them that sites will look better in Firefox. Then, hey,'s not that big a leap. Pretty soon you're just waiting for Linux to be usable by non-nerds and the jump's pretty easy.

In otherwords, the browser is the gateway drug, and Microsoft needs to treat its junkies a little better.

What should happen to IE?
1. Mac IE 6... or none at all
Either pick up support for Mac or politely push users off IE onto Safari / Firefox. There's no benefit to having Mac users running a clunky Microsoft browser, it's bad business. Lead or get out of the way.
2. Standards and Technical Parity with Mozilla browsers
PNG transparency, CSS support, SVG support, etc. Others have spelled it out in greater detail, so I'm not gonna rehash it. I'll summarize it - make web developers happy, because they are the influencers you want on your side. (A personal request - inline images - Mozilla supports it...).
3. Security
Sure, goes without saying. Needs the same attention Microsoft's been giving all their products on security. I think this has been the only real positive thing here lately, though - security doesn't seem to be as huge issue for IE as it has been in the past. (wherein I invoke the wrath of my largely theoretical user base and they comment flame me to death).
4. A Roadmap
Microsoft's abandoned IE before, so they need to show us this isn't a bouquet and a peck on the cheek. We don't want you back for a weekend, not back for a day (no no no), I said IE I just want you back, and I want you to stay.... We know Longhorn's coming some day, but a lot of folks are going to be on XP or something else for several years to come. Tell them why they sould stay with IE before they feel the need to leave.


  • good one, any links to contacts for "interested in what people think" ? thanks

  • I am not sure I trust the google zeitgeist in that "Web Browsers Used to Access Google" shows a huge number of IE6 users - we don't know how many of them are using browsers that allow the user to pretend that they are using IE6.

  • Anon[1] - Agree. I think it'd be fine for IE for Mac to go away. The problem is that it's probably going to happen via user dissatisfaction, and that's not in Microsoft's best interest.

    I think it'd be refreshingly honest for official Microsoft policy to be "We'll support security updates to Mac IE, but for a better user experience we recommend either Safari or Firefox."

  • Adrian - Agree. That's why I think it's important that the IE team offer a roadmap. We need to know that this isn't a quick patch up job.

  • Jerry, the thing about tabbed browsing is that you have a choice.

    When I want a new window I open a new window. When I am reading a blog or news article I open links I want to see in the background. Tabbed browsing gives you that choice and for me keeps related sets of sites together.

  • Um, Microsoft +has+ discontinued development for the Macintosh version of IE. And we have announced such to the world. I'm suprised you missed that.

  • Jerry / Adrian - I think tabbed browsing is nice, but way behind standards compliance for me. Funny, though, it's the kind of eye candy that gets joe user. When I showed it to my wife, she said "I want that. Can you make that browser do that?"

  • Robert - Nice to have you stop by! Sorry I didn't have cookies out or anything.

    No, I'm very aware that IE 5.5 for Mac was the end of the line. I support an application for artists, many of which use Mac, and it's a major headache. I've started pushing them to Firefox.

    And that's what I think Microsoft should do. Now I know this is crazy talk, but I think just announcing you've stopped developing an application and forgetting about it isn't the best thing, even for Microsoft. You end up with frustrated users who can't do what they want (e.g. WYSIWYG HTML editing with a contentEditable textbox) because the "stupid Microsoft browser doesn't work." So they'll eventually move to a more modern browser, but under less than amicable conditions.

    I think it's worth considering an official policy from Microsoft that encourages users to upgrade to a newer browser. Hey, we're no longer updating this browser, but there are a few great alternatives that we encourage you to try out. That shows integrity, and why not do it? It's a free application anyway, and you've already gotten all the goodwill out of it you're going to - now get that last bit of goodwill by bowing out gracefully. I can't think of a way to notify Mac IE users directly - is there a "Windows Update" kinda thing for Mac IE?

    Do you really look like Philip Seymour Hoffman, or is that just the picture?

  • Safari works 99% of the time. That 1%, when I want to execute a transaction at a financial institution and Safari won't comply, pushes me to Microsoft's IE. I feel bad abandoning Apple for MS, but 99% just isn't enough.

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