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Microsoft losing ground in browser wars

2010-01-21 08:23 BJT

BEIJING, January 20 (Xinhuanet) -- Warnings by the German and French governments about the vulnerability of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer appear to be boosting the uptake of rival browsers across Europe. Computer security experts have described the Microsoft software flaws as routine and not particularly serious, and called the official warnings coming out of Europe an over-reaction.

But many people have flocked to download pages of other browser providers according to latest statistics. Internet Explorer still remains the leading browser in Europe, with 45 percent market share, but Firefox is a close second at 40 percent. This compares with a 56 per cent market share worldwide, according to StatCounter, the web analytics company. However in markets like Germany and Austria, Firefox has already become the market leader, with IE in second place.

The German and French governments have both warned citizens not to use Internet Explorer, at least until a security patch is released to fix a vulnerability in the software. Concerns were raised after security experts pointed to a flaw in Internet Explorer code as a key vulnerability that had contributed to the cyber-attacks on Google and 33 other companies.

There was a huge spike in the number of searches for Firefox in Germany at the end of last week, according to the Google Trends website, which allows users to track Internet behaviour. There was also a sharp rise in searches for Firefox in Switzerland and Austria, and more modest increases in countries like Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, and the UK.

Microsoft said last week that Internet Explorer had been one of several mechanisms used in the attack. But rather than moving to a rival browser Microsoft was recommending that customers switch to Internet Explorer 8 which had not seen any successful attacks.

Another contender in the browser market is Google Chrome, which is gaining ground though still ranks a distant third. But some suggest this gap may close more significantly in the coming months. Randall Kennedy, writing for the PCWorld website, says that "Mozilla's Firefox is doomed. Caught between the immovable object of Microsoft Internet Explorer and the irresistible force of Google Chrome". Third-party extension development is waning, he says, and Firefox 3.6 is overdue.

"Mozilla is abandoning its traditional major release cycle model in favor of smaller, incremental changes that it will slipstream through security patches and other maintenance updates," Kennedy states, "Mozilla's developers are admitting that they can no longer deliver a fully baked and tested Firefox release in a timely fashion. So they're switching to an incremental model where they can deliver progress in more manageable chunks, thus bypassing the lengthy external beta/feedback process altogether."

Firefox arrived in a market when the only competitor was Microsoft. Its success has forced rivals to better their own product, and the past two years have seen Microsoft, Apple and Opera close the features gap significantly. They’ve been forced to improve their browsers, and they have resources at their disposal that Mozilla doesn’t,” said Rob Enderle, principal analyst at the Enderle Group. “It was a different ball game when it was Mozilla against Microsoft, everybody was on its side. Now that there are alternatives, it’s going to be harder.”