If you quote statistics, it is always a good idea to tell the entire story, as you expose yourself to inconvenient questions. We frequently criticize Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT) for its uncomfortably biased blogging about growing IE market shares, and it may have received a dose of the opposite bias this week. But it was exactly this bias that opened the door to a decent IE marketing opportunity, and Microsoft strangely missed out on it by choosing to simply ignore those reports. Whatever the reason for this decision was, and as much as we believe that Microsoft isn't promoting IE in the right way, we also believe that it is highly unlikely that IE is dying.

I have to admit that I am somewhat puzzled by Microsoft's IE marketing and as much as I enjoy the blog posts of the IE team, I almost immediately doubt new information that is posted on Microsoft's consumer IE blogs. You can find a spin almost every time, a spin that distorts the real picture, which is sometimes a result of the need to describe a product in a positive light, but often results in a rather awkward choice of selective data that is an invitation to third parties to double-check the data set.

Often enough, you find that there is enough data in publicly available market research to paint a different picture. We have done that recently and a discussion with Microsoft was the result -- which I appreciated, but I would hope that the overall tone of IE marketing would change to the open format that is currently practiced by Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Mozilla. Remember the negative impression and doubt Mozilla faced in the beginning of this year?

At least it is my impression that this perception has changed and Mozilla is doing much better these days. Microsoft yesterday faced a wave of claims that IE is practically dead, which was the result of selective data choice on the other side of the spectrum (we ran this story last week). It is relatively easy to question the credibility of such claims, and I am surprised that Microsoft has not risen to the opportunity to jump on this bandwagon to pitch its side. For once, I believe that the attacks on IE were unfair and without merit. Despite its decline, IE isn't going anywhere. Common sense.

It is a competitive world
Let's be honest. There are now at least five terrific browsers out there: IE9 Beta, Firefox 4 Beta, Chrome 7 Beta, Safari 5.0.2 and Opera 10.7 Beta. I am explicitly referring to those betas, because they are the edge of browser engineering and they are, in our experience, stable enough to be used in everyday browsing. It would be very surprising if Microsoft was able to hold more than 50% market share in the long term, given those choices. No matter how good IE really is, it is unlikely to ever get back to its 90%+ market share. On the positive side, we live in a time of choice and a very favorable time of competition for the browser user. Never before have we seen a greater pace of innovation in web browsers. Just like Mozilla has its user base, so do IE, Chrome, Safari and Opera.

Locked in user base
We have written about the way how Microsoft has screwed itself with IE6, which was released with Windows XP in 2001 and was locked in by Microsoft has a standard browser in enterprises, which make up the majority of the IE6 user base today. Similarly, Microsoft did not think about automated browser updates 10 years ago, and upgrading IE is a major hurdle for many PC users. There is no direct way to move those IE6 users to a newer version. On the other side, these users are locked in to IE and not to Firefox or Chrome. If they upgrade, they are likely to go to a newer version of IE. If they buy a new PC, they are very likely to use IE. It is absolutely true and a big challenge for Microsoft that experienced users are moving up to Firefox and especially Chrome, but Microsoft has the mainstream user, and that will not change ... at least until Google does not have a mainstream OS, until Mozilla does not have a way of distributing its browser into mainstream channels more efficiently, and until we are seeing a much more disruptive move away from desktop computing to mobile platforms -- where IE has a significant disadvantage.

IE9 is not a bad browser
Microsoft overslept the trend of faster, more nimble browsers and dug itself into a hole with IE7 and IE8. The market share declines we are seeing today are still a result of the frustration of users that IE8 seems to be a dinosaur of a time long gone. However, IE9 is a good, albeit not perfect, browser. But we also know that succeeding in this market does not require the best browser. It requires a good-enough browser. From what we can see, IE9 is good enough, even if we believe that Microsoft has shot itself in the foot by not having a version that supports Windows XP. The current market puts IE9's market opportunity at about 30%, which will be, in our opinion about the range where the browser will settle in the 2012 to 2013 time frame.

30% of the market is far from what we consider as "death," even if it is a long shot from what IE once held. It would be rather arrogant for Microsoft to believe that it can hit 60%+ market share again in the near future, given the competitive field. The company should be focusing on a modest communication campaign that highlights the browser's strengths from all angles and tell the entire story, not just the convenient ones. If there is something that IE needs at this time, it is credibility. If you think about it, it is rather stunning that, just two weeks ago, we read stories how great this new IE9 Beta is, and today we read claims that the browser is dead.

If IE9 had more credibility, the fallout from this latest market share story would have been less painful.

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