IE numbers down for first time in years

For the first time in at least five years, recent findings indicate that the flawless armour surrounding Microsoft Corp.’s extremely popular Web browser, Internet Explorer (IE), has its first chink. Although very minimal, one industry insider said the drop is significant because it is completely unprecedented.

WebSideStory Inc., the San Diego-based analytics company that has been tracking IE weekly for the past half-decade, reported that Canadian IE usage went from 94.95 per cent on June 4 to 93.33 per cent on July 15, a total drop of 1.6 per cent, noted Geoff Johnston, an analyst with the firm. WebSideStory samples between one million and 1.5 million Canadians daily to retrieve its numbers, he added. T

he significance of the findings depends on the perspective of the person evaluating them, Johnston said. If it is Microsoft viewing them, it probably wouldn’t see the slight dwindle as important, but to competitors Mozilla or Netscape — whose combined numbers have risen from 4.25 per cent to 5.68 per cent over the same sampling period — these findings are very exciting, he added.

Mozilla is known as Netscape’s “little brother,” according to industry insiders. The Mozilla Foundation was created by Netscape in 1998 as a way to allow developers to play with and improve Netscape’s source code. Mozilla’s newest browser, FireFox 0.9.1, was released in June and has so far “been getting…the best reviews,” according to Johnston.

The fact that IE’s popularity has slipped recently doesn’t surprise Peter Chung, systems administrator for the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO), primarily because of the force with which Mozilla is attacking the market.

Mozilla will make a larger dent in Microsoft’s market share as time goes on, Chung predicts, but it will be by the more savvy “power users” because they are the ones that will be able to make total use of the more advanced features Mozilla has over IE. Because the HRPAO has memberships to certain programs that only run on IE, Chung said that his organization is, in effect, “forced” to use the browser. If the HRPAO was free to choose its own technology, however, Chung said he would still pick IE. “We prefer it [here]….Overall it is a good, simple-to-use application for users,” Chung added. “We don’t have any problems with it at all.” The technologically advanced users are the ones switching from IE to more advanced browsers, agreed Tristan Goguen, president of Toronto-based ISP Internet Light and Power (ILAP).

But despite IE’s security problems and its slowly declining market share, Goguen said that IE will continue to be “the bear on the market” for the same reason that the HRPAO’s Chung prefers the technology — because it is embedded in Windows.

For the large majority of Internet users it is relatively painful to switch to another browser, so ILAP doesn’t see that as being realistic, Goguen explained, “unless Microsoft gets it completely wrong for a relatively long period of time….They have an operating system monopoly [and] they have a browser monopoly and you can’t remove it.”

The concern for ILAP is less about the browser and more about the OS as a whole, he added. “What concerns us is the constant stream of patches that have to be applied, not only to the PCs but to the servers. At ILAP we have an important task in making sure that our Windows environment is up 7×24 and unfortunately it takes a whole lot more resources to make sure these servers are patched than, say, Unix servers,” Goguen explained.

“For us the bigger issue is the overall stability of Windows rather than Internet Explorer. We don’t trust Windows anywhere near as much as we trust Unix.”

WebSideStory’s Johnston said that it is going to take something “semi-catastrophic or revolutionary” to make a larger, more significant number of users switch from IE to a different browser. “There’s a cost to changing and people don’t want to pay that cost if they don’t have to….I think it is going to be a big problem to really rouse the general public.”

A rousing may have happened in June when US-CERT issued a warning stating there were a number of significant vulnerabilities relating to the IE domain/zone security model, the DHTML object model, MIME type determination and ActiveX. US-CERT indicated that it is possible to reduce exposure to these vulnerabilities by using a different Web browser.