Internet Explorer takes unexpected jump in market share

Chrome's misstep contributed to Microsoft's increased browser numbers, but other source of growth comes -- surprisingly -- from IE 6

Just when you thought Internet Explorer was on a years-long losing streak, about to drop below 50 percent of all browsing activity worldwide, the January figures from Net Applications showed a substantial, remarkable 1.19 percent jump in IE use in January.

Just as surprisingly, there are concomitant decreases in market share for all three of IE's primary competitors: Firefox (down almost 1 percent from December), Chrome (down almost 0.2 percent), and Safari (down almost 0.1 percent).

Desktop browser market share 2012 Q1

What happened?

For one, Chrome shot itself in the foot. About a month ago, Google stomped on Chrome's PageRank because of a marketing campaign that included paid-for links in blogs that extolled the virtues of Chrome. Google comes down hard on companies that pay bloggers for links, and it came down much harder on itself. As a result, if you Google "browser" right now, you'll find Firefox, Opera, Safari, Internet Explorer, Netscape Navigator, SeaMonkey, Konqueror, Maxthon, Avant, Crazy Browser, Dolphin, and Flock -- and you have to look very, very hard to find Chrome. A lower PageRank also means it "displays fewer ads," according to Net Applications. That PageRank hit will continue for another month.

But that's only part of the story -- the one that's been widely reported. Here's the rest of the story.

Internet Explorer's largest gain in January wasn't from IE 9 or even IE 8. By far the largest IE growth in January was from IE 6, the version that Microsoft declared dead in the United States, the one that Microsoft's been trying to pulverize for years. Between December 2011 and January 2012, according to Net Applications, IE 9's market share grew 0.16 percent, from 11.48 to 11.64 percent of the overall search market; IE 8's grew 0.11 percent; IE 7's grew 0.10 percent; and IE 6 was up 0.60 percent -- IE 6 grew almost four times as fast as any other version of IE.

Microsoft says that fewer than 1 percent of the PCs in the United States run IE 6.

So where did the big surge in Internet Explorer usage come from? Probably the place with the most PCs running IE 6: China. In December and January, more PCs were sold in China than in the United States. The vast majority of PCs sold in China don’t come with Windows pre-installed. One has to wonder how many of those PCs got fitted with pirated copies of XP, running IE 6.

This story, "Internet Explorer takes unexpected jump in market share," was originally published at Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow on Twitter.

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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