There was a time when Microsoft ruled the Web, when its Internet Explorer (IE) browser enjoyed a supremacy only exceeded by its Windows operating system.
That was no coincidence, of course: IE has been bundled with Windows since 1995.
But the days of IE owning a 95 percent share of the browser market are long gone, assaulted first by the appearance, and then success, of Mozilla's open-source Firefox, followed by a resurgence of Apple's Safari on the back of gains in Mac share, the efforts of a small Norwegian developer, and the entry last year by Google into the fray.
Now IE seems to be on the ropes. In the last five years, it's lost nearly a third of its market share as the once-dead browser space has been reinvigorated with faster, smaller, and more flexible rivals.
It looks like the trend will be tough, very tough for Microsoft to turn around.
How tough? Computerworld asked a pair of browser experts, including an executive from Net Applications, the California-based Web metrics company most often cited for browser standings, to explain why IE will lose even more ground in 2010.
That's what the numbers say
The erosion in IE's share of the browser usage pie shows no sign of abating, and in fact is accelerating, according to data from Net Applications.
IE lost 7.8 percentage points during 2009, ending the year at a new low of 62.7 percent, an annual loss rate of about 11 percent. In 2008, IE lost 8.3 points, for an annual loss rate of 10.5 percent. That's a pretty clear trend line.
More troubling for Microsoft is evidence of a quickening in IE's decline. IE lost an average of 0.94 of a percentage point in each of the last six months of 2009, nearly triple the 0.36 of a point average decline during the first six months. (The difference in 2008 between first half and second half was less dramatic: IE lost an average of 0.6 percentage point each of the first six months of 2008, dropped 0.8 point each of the six months in the second half of the year.)
In fact, if the loss rate of the last three months of 2009 continues -- IE fell by more than 3 points from October through December -- IE will become a minority browser about a year from now, sometime in January 2011.
The EU makes Microsoft go to the polls
After a year-long battle, antitrust regulators in the European Union last month approved a deal with Microsoft that requires the company to add a browser ballot screen to Windows. The ballot, which appears on any PC that has IE set as the default browser, lets users pick one or more rival browsers to download and install.
The ballot screen will add to IE's troubles, argued Sheri McLeish, an analyst with Forrester Research. "Certainly another reason [for IE's continued decline] that you can point to is the EU's browser menu," said McLeish.