Is Internet Explorer Doomed?

Almost two years to the week after AOL (NYSE: AOL  ) announced it would end support for Netscape's pioneering Netscape Navigator browser, which Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) destroyed when it created its rival Internet Explorer (IE), new data suggests that IE is still losing market share, primarily to the open-source Firefox browser.

StatCounter, an analytics firm, says that Firefox's share of the browser market now stands at 32.06%, up almost seven percentage points from last November. Internet Explorer's share fell more than 12 percentage points over the same period.

Firefox isn't the only winner here. Apple's (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) Safari made modest gains, and Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) Chrome browser gained almost as much as Firefox did -- up to 5.34% from 0.93% last November.

Blame it on Steve
We don't know precisely why IE is losing share, but Macs could be part of the problem. Apple has gained share from smaller PC market rivals this year, and it's putting pressure on leaders Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) and Hewlett-Packard (NYSE: HPQ  ) in the process. Macs don't use IE. They haven't for years. Each user that switches from PC to Mac also switches from IE to ... something else.

Serious Mac addicts will tell you that Safari is the platform's best browser. It certainly performs well enough on my aging MacBook Pro. But it also isn't my primary choice. Firefox is, because it's both browser and platform. Using Greasemonkey's scripts, I've tricked out the Firefox version of Gmail to the point where it has become a tool, rather than a chore. Call it cloud computing at its most functional.

Safari doesn't dabble in plug-ins and extensions the way that Firefox does. IE offers plug-ins for Windows, but users apparently have more interest in alternatives. IE's market share would be stable or growing if this weren't true.

Microsoft investors have reason to worry. This is a war, and it's being fought in the browser. The most functional environment for cloud computing will win this conflict. Going by the trend in the numbers, users increasingly believe that's Firefox.

But this is also Round 1 of a multiround bout. Get up off the mat, Mr. Softy. Internet Explorer needs you at your fighting best.

Have a different view? Let's hear it. You can weigh in using the comments box below.

Apple is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers recommendation. Dell and Microsoft are Motley Fool Inside Value picks. Microsoft is also a Motley Fool Options recommendation. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.

Fool contributor Tim Beyers had stock and options positions in Apple and a stock position in Google at the time of publication. Check out Tim's portfolio holdings and Foolish writings, or connect with him on Twitter as @milehighfool. The Motley Fool is also on Twitter as @TheMotleyFool. The Fool's disclosure policy is up waaaaaay too early.


Read/Post Comments (27) | Recommend This Article (17)

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  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 10:25 AM, MeirRatsky wrote:

    I don't think IE is doomed; it is however, losing market share. There's a big difference. I'm personally conflicted (I own MSFT shares and have for some years, but USE Firefox mostly), but a large percentage of sites (including MOST US government sites!) just don't work quite right in any browser besides IE! This is even more so with small to mid-size web sites (except, of course, for those whose owners use an alternative browser themselves). It would be interesting to poll the large base of Web developers, both in large companies (usually internal) and the independent ones, to see how many claim to support all browsers or actually test their designs with them. I've exchanged e-mails with many web masters when I've had problems using FireFox, and the answer I get most often is "why aren't you using IE?" That's a really powerful factor in the possible "imminent demise" of IE. One telling factor may be in Europe, now that the EU has forced MS to force the user to choose his own browser when installing any version of Windows. I suspect that even with the relatively strong anti-MS sentiment there, the vast majority of users will opt for IE anyway.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 11:10 AM, marv08 wrote:

    @MeirRatsky: Actually, Firefox' market share passed IE several months ago in Europe - even without the new ballot screen. Looking at tech sites and sites mostly visited by younger people - IE scores less than 20% on most of them.

    ===

    MS went into hibernation mode after releasing IE6, between 2001 and 2005 there was no development at all and IE7 (released in late 2006) was a poor product with tons of serious flaws. The current IE8 is still the only browser without any support for upcoming HTML 5 standards, it is (by a wide margin) the slowest browser in handling Javascript and the security settings do still require a diploma. How can Chrome and Safari provide a safe and fast browsing environment without presenting any challenge to the user? No idea if Internet Explorer is doomed - but I sure hope so.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 12:17 PM, MIkefirefire wrote:

    IE main problem is security. Its not a safe browser or more importantly, its not VIEWED as a safe browser.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 1:00 PM, alexinlax wrote:

    Well, I would count on Apple' Safari Browser overtaking anyone... I am a hardcore mac user and most of us know that SAFARI is the worst browser by far. It's too slow, and it crashes on my new macbook on daily basis.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 1:23 PM, damastr wrote:

    Doomed? Are you kidding? Losing few percentage market share doesn't mean it will go away. It's still in the top two isn't it? How long has Linux been around? Has Windows gone away?

    In any case, the latest version 8 of IE is much better than its predecessors, and I dare say even Firefox. Firefox is good, and I use it heavily with my work PC, which doesn't have IE8, but on my personal laptop, after getting Windows 8, I only use IE8 and never felt even tempted to use Firefox.

    It's far from over.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 2:37 PM, Fool wrote:

    I use Firefox occaisionally for the addons. But Chrome everyday for the speed..

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 3:11 PM, blogzack wrote:

    What is remarkable is how long IE has persisted despite:

    1)being the slowest of the browsers;

    2)having only 1/2 the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript standards compliance that Chrome, Safari, Opera, and Firefox routinely deliver. This means a lot of extra work for developers - you would thnk they would avoid using IE;

    3)lacking the download manager, extensive plugin, and extensive theme/template features of the other browsers;

    4)having the poorest security record for number and time to fix for browser bugs and security hacks.

    5)and as marv08 pointed out above - MS has taken [and continues to] obstruct stanadrds adoption by refusing to approve and/or implement many Web standards - SVG,HTML 5, E4X, JPEG200, XForms 2, CSS3 are just the beginning of a long list.

    Despite this poor record and obstructionism Microsoft has managed to retain for over 5 years [since Firefox, Opera, and Safari appered]a still monopoly market share of 60%++.

    This is the question worth asking - how is this possible given the supposed efficiency of markets.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 3:13 PM, blogzack wrote:

    hey you guys wiped out my comment just after submitting - was it really that bad?

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 5:05 PM, damastr wrote:

    @blogzack, may be it was your browser :).. Which one is it?

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 5:42 PM, Fool wrote:

    "We don't know precisely why IE is losing share, but Macs could be part of the problem. "

    Really? You don't know why IE is losing share? You are unaware that IE is a horribly designed, outdated, buggy, malware-prone, non-standards-compliant abomination?

    To the extent that Apple, Maps and Steve Jobs have had anything to do with IE's declining market share, we should all be thanking them, not "blaming" them.

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 6:15 PM, TopAustrianFool wrote:

    I don't know but IE is slow as hell...

  • Report this Comment On December 24, 2009, at 6:24 PM, ChannelDunlap wrote:

    IE will always have a place as the default pre-installed browser. Just like Notepad & Wordpad are the default pre-installed text editors. Very few people actually use them, but they still get some use for specific applications. IE's specific application will be the acquisition of another browser.

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2009, at 1:45 AM, kurtisj wrote:

    In all likelihood, IE 9 will come out swinging with more speed improvements, improved jscript engine and better standard compliance than ever. Their long time strategy of suffocating and distracting from innovation (and wasting efforts on stuff like silverlight) is failing, and while they are struggling to improve, it seems that they are capable of getting something like this effort correct.

    Not that I'm an enthusiastic fan of the company and its efforts, but I don't think IE is getting bumped yet. They've got to worry about Chrome (both), but that's not prime time stuff.

    IE will attract some followers soon, although they won't conquer open source stuff soon.

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2009, at 8:45 AM, GorillaGorilla wrote:

    MSFT should know exactly why they are here... they stopped development of an inferior product. They maintained their position through the ignorance of their users knowing that most would not try to install another browser.

    However, installation isn't difficult and once you have for you troubles you find a faster internet experience.

    Looking forward the browser development should never have been stopped, indeed, it will be key to cloud computing since you can use the browser to "juice" up the speed of operation between you and the remote servers.

    Well, the game is on - they lost their total dominance of a vital application. That will benefit everyone as we will choose from the best browsers going forward and I hope no one ever gets the 90%+ dominance again. Unchallenged monopolies eventually hamper innovation.

    MSFT thought search engines no longer required development and they were wrong and paid the price by introducing a fierce competitor. They have now invited competition into the browser market - I hope they make a better show of it this time.

    rich

  • Report this Comment On December 25, 2009, at 1:04 PM, Windsun33 wrote:

    To equate Netscape with IE is a bit off - Netscape was by far the crappiest of all the browsers in the entire universe when it finally bit the dust. IE8+ is far from perfect, but it is not a total kludge either.

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2009, at 1:02 AM, smallcapbigyield wrote:

    I may be missing the point, but I'm not sure how the browser necessarily affects "cloud computing." The backend servers and services are the cloud. People could (and probably will) access Microsoft services from a different browser. Microsoft won't care which browser people use when they access MS Word online three years from now.

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2009, at 7:13 AM, joaquingrech wrote:

    Yep, I'm still trying to understand what you meant by cloud computing because I don't see the connection :?

    I also don't see why investors should worry if IE dies. In fact, one of the best questions asked at a microsoft conference was why they still keep doing and spending so much on IE when it seems to bring no benefits to the company. I wouldn't be surprised if IE dies not because of competition but because microsoft decides to give it away or kill it.

    As long as microsoft doesn't decide that, firefox, safari or chrome will not kill IE since it wouldn't be a reveneu issue.

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2009, at 7:27 AM, ldgpangeo wrote:

    Microsoft is the ultimate market-driven company. Once MS killed off Netscape it stopped development of its browser at IE6. It only restarted development when it found Firefox was starting to eat at it's monopoly.

    This year, MS discovered that iPhone is clobbering its sales of Windows Mobile. Guess what.... It has now announced that its developing a fantastic new version of Mobile that will solve all the world's problems.

    I support and use many of the MS competitors because they are more innovative, more user friendly, and its one of the few ways we have to force MS to improve their products. MS can produce good products but only does so when it feels that it is the underdog scrambling for market share.

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2009, at 1:12 PM, Fool wrote:

    <Yawn>

    ... and the IPAQ will be the "next big thing."

    It's so cute how TMF roots for the underdog and how they despise the monolithic corporations like Microsoft, Exxon or Berkshire Hahaway. Unfortunately, while TMF loathes the giants and loves the proverbial Davids, the "little guy" is what he is because they are not the innovators.

    While TMF sang the praises of Palm Pilots and IPAQs, being the wave of the future, their own corporate darling, Apple, was taking the existing technology to a whole new level.

    While cloud computing is (at best) and interesting option, the next step will be based on a combination of it and enterprise applications until transmission guarantees can be established. Can you imagine the impact of system down time on a Walmart or Best Buy during the holidays? Neither can they.

    The Motley Fool = Haters ... or better yet, a gaggle of "guesstimaters" that pimp the long-shot a miss out on the sure thin.

  • Report this Comment On December 26, 2009, at 10:19 PM, paulstewart2 wrote:

    I use Firefox and have since it came out...... It gets better and better..... Google Chrome I have taken out a couple times to play with but I don't go to it because I am heavily and I might add happily and efficiently engaged in Firefox' abilities and add ons... Chrome may be faster but the difference in speed I suspect comes from having no add ons.. I won't touch IE. I have to use it at work cause it is the corporate browser... It is a nightmare to use. Slow, few useful tools, and it seems to want to link only to Microsoft stuff... I think IE is dying and either Microsoft has a big plan, or it is going to lose the war... It does not even seem to be fighting the good fight on this....

  • Report this Comment On December 27, 2009, at 3:35 PM, rmb0000 wrote:

    @paulstewart -- chrome has extensions, they work just fine. I have about 10 of them installed, and there has been no noticeable effect on startup time or performance.

    While there are still plenty of firefox extensions that are possibly better, or not available yet on chrome, the idea that chrome is (quite a lot) faster than FF because of lack of extensions has been busted for some time now.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2009, at 3:45 AM, alanMosley wrote:

    I have been watching the browser stats at statcouter and I have noticed some peculiarities. Several times I have seen huge adjustments to the figures mostly unexplained, all these seem to be to the benefit of Firefox. One explanation it gave for a huge jump in Firefox shares and a huge drop in IE was that they gave more weight to china’s stats to reflect its population. This alarmed me because I thought I was looking at un-tampered with stats, not reworked to someone’s assumptions. If they were right to do this, then the stats must have been wrong up until that point. When I look at the stats from websites that I built and control, IE comes in at about 75% on most sites that have no IT related content. Those that have IT related content have IE anywhere from 60% up. Sudden jumps on statcouter are also not reflected in my stats. To me a web developer living in Australia my stats are much more relevant to me than guess work as to what Chinese browsers are using. If I look at statcounter's stats for my region it shows Firefox with double the market share I have recorded in my stats We also have to consider why their stats are so different to web applications stats, that by the way also are not raw stats.

  • Report this Comment On December 28, 2009, at 12:30 PM, jesterboomer wrote:

    I mostly use Firefox but used IE for some sites, e.g. Netflix player, that only worked with IE. These are now mostly working with Firefox so my need for IE diminshes.

    Also, I have recently experienced problems using IE8 and Windows 7.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2009, at 7:14 PM, GenChaos wrote:

    I would ditch IE in a heartbeat if not for the problem MeirRatsky pointed out. A lot of .gov websites don't work as well on Firefox.

    Also I don't think apple has as much to do with IE losing share as IE just being a bad browser does. A lot of Mac-Heads I know swear by fire fox as the author himself admits to doing.

    If Microsoft decides to pour millions into IE development I'm sure they'll come out with a decent product. Although their trend is to be a follower not so much an innovator these days. That's something that often seems to hurt them.

  • Report this Comment On December 30, 2009, at 10:02 PM, jmbring wrote:

    IE certainly won't disappear - it achieved its status by packaging, not performance, and many folks will continue to use the de facto Windows browser. which is too bad, really.

    i'm becoming quite a fan of Chrome lately. simple and clean, effective and fast. even on our old laptop...

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2009, at 3:44 AM, Netteligent09 wrote:

    If given a chance, worldwide customers will delete Microsoft Internet Explorer from their computers.

  • Report this Comment On December 31, 2009, at 9:57 PM, crawlfish wrote:

    I use mainly Fire Fox. I run Linux on my home computers but can use Explorer through wine on them. Most people use Microsoft products because they do not know of alternates they could use. Right now pc computers are getting cheaper all the time. All components except the operating system have fallen in price. Now Microsoft products are glaring expensive. They are not even the best available. Open Source is better. The core of Apple's operating system is open source for instance. Linux has won the server war and we are moving towards Cloud Computing which runs on servers. I think Microsoft will survive. But not without a major corporate culture shift.

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