My January, 2011 Montana InBusiness Monthly column
11/05/11 Update: See IE6 Countdown to Death and Even Microsoft Wishes Internet Explorer 6 Would Just Die Already and Microsoft’s own Internet Explorer 6 Countdown which urges users to upgrade from IE6 – “10 years ago a browser was born. Its name was Internet Explorer 6. Now that we’re in 2011, in an era of modern web standards, it’s time to say goodbye.”
The most dominate web browser is Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, and by dominant I mean market share, as measured by the number of people who use Internet Explorer for browsing the web in all its forms, for information, shopping and social networking.
IE – as it is commonly called in the tech world – has three main versions in use: 6, 7 and 8. All three combined give Microsoft an almost 60% share of the browser market.
Market share might be a funny term to use for a product that’s free, but it’s a good way to put numbers to a what is often the most used product a company has to offer. Lots of tech pundits keep track of browser market share, because it’s a bellwether of many things: by learning which browser is becoming more popular and which one is dying, you can extrapolate more about the company behind the browser.
Hopefully, the older version of a companies’ browser is dying off while a new one is gaining share. But it’s not always that smooth of a transition.
That’s obvious by looking at the details of IE’s market share in 2010: IE’s overall market share of all versions of IE dropped just a touch from 60% to to 58%. That’s not a huge drop, but it’s important as Microsoft’s slide has been consistent over the last few years. They’re still dominant, but vulnerable.
IE’s main competitors are Apple’s Safari browser (gaining 1% during 2010 to 5.5%), the Firefox Browser developed by Mozilla Foundation (dropping almost 2% to 22%), Google’s Chrome browser (gaining almost 5% to 10%).
Chrome is obviously the challenger here, but Microsoft’s real problem is their own, and it’s called IE6. That’s their ten year old buggy and insecure browser that just won’t go away. Of that almost 60% total market share, more than 13% is IE6, which even outpaces the newer IE7, at just under 10% of that 60% total.
A ten year old web browser has more market share than the newer, faster and more secure IE7? Even more than IE8? So, why won’t IE6 go to the boneyard? Because there are millions of IE6 users, either among the most difficult to get to upgrade – like government systems – or who can’t upgrade, as in China.
Governments can be reluctant to upgrade because they have large investments in systems and training. Simply changing a web browser can be a huge deal if you have thousands of people to support and specially built software systems that rely on a certain piece of software.
And China? Many people in China use IE6 because of Microsoft’s own policies. For better or for worse, Microsoft doesn’t allow automatic updates to unregistered or “pirated” versions of Windows that don’t have a valid license key. So with the millions of copies of unlicensed Windows come millions of IE6 users.
What’s interesting is how much the browser market changes throughout the day and reflects some of those numbers, at least among what’s thought to be government systems. Statistics show that IE6 use is high during the day and drops off at night when both Firefox and Safari use climbs. That leads the pundits to believe that users stuck at work with IE6 actually use newer browsers at home, where they can update their own PC or use different browsers all together.
Microsoft has available a beta (testing version) of a new IE version called IE9 that will be released in a final version this year, and Microsoft has high hopes for it to stop its browser slide against Chrome and Safari. But I think until Microsoft can seriously do something about IE6, all bets are off.