Although Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer is not a popular mobile browser -- Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari dominates -- it remains the most popular desktop browser. According to Net Marketshare, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has more than 58% of the desktop market, which is hardly surprising, given the popularity of Microsoft's operating systems on traditional PCs.
But among power users, Internet Explorer is in the minority. Instead, Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Chrome is king, alongside Mozilla's Firefox. In a computing world that's ever more reliant on the Internet, browsers are becoming far more important. Can anime win the power users back?
Microsoft's weird new ad
Microsoft's new ad for Internet Explorer may, to the average person, seem strange. A big-eyed cartoon girl is harassed by evil, laser beam-shooting robots -- until she transforms in a burst of light, returning fire with lasers of her own, and crushing her attackers. But for those who watch anime regularly, the ad should seem familiar.
Anime -- or Japanese cartoons -- are filled with a number of cliches, many of which find their way into Microsoft's ad. What anime has to do with Internet Explorer remains a mystery, but it's clear that Microsoft was hoping its ad would appeal to anime fans, and maybe get some of them to consider coming back to Internet Explorer.
Certainly, all fans of anime aren't power users, and all power users aren't anime fans. But anime -- along with Star Wars, Star Trek, and Lord of the Rings -- is a stereotypical nerd interest, spoofed in shows such as The Big Bang Theory.
Browsers are more important than ever before
But why does Microsoft care who uses Internet Explorer? It gives the browser away for free; it isn't earning any revenue from it directly.
In an era of cloud computing, browsers are becoming the centralized hub for web services. Google's Chrome browser, for example, is tied both to its search engine and to Gmail. If a user starts typing in Chrome's address bar, it will automatically do a Google search, while Chrome itself can be tied to a user's Gmail account, allowing for a seamless Internet experience across multiple devices (a feature Google emphasizes in its Chrome advertising). And if you're using Gmail, why not use Google's other services (Google Drive, Google Docs, Google+)?
It's even bigger than that: Google appears to be slowly transforming Chrome into a fully featured operating system. Indeed, Google's ChromeOS, the operating system that powers Chromebooks, is little more than the Chrome browser. Paired with Chrome Web Apps, Google's browser could eventually threaten Microsoft's Windows.
Apple's Safari dominates mobile devices
Despite the massive market share that Android -- Google's mobile operating system -- enjoys, Apple's browser, Safari, is as nearly as dominant on mobile as Internet Explorer is on the desktop. Net Marketshare reports that on mobile devices, Safari has almost 56% of the market. As with Microsoft's dominance of the desktop, Apple's dominance of mobile isn't particularly surprising -- as the default browser for Apple's iPhones and iPads, it would be more surprising if Safari was in the minority.
Still, while Apple's share of the mobile market might serve to highlight how poor of a job Microsoft is doing when it comes to mobile, Safari shouldn't be seen as a competitive threat. Unlike Google, Apple isn't a major player in Web services and isn't attempting to turn its browser into an operating system.
A war of Web services
Microsoft has a vested interest in getting power users back on Internet Explorer. The more they use Google's Chrome, the less likely they are to use Microsoft's Web services (Bing, Outlook, SkyDrive) and the more likely they are to use Google's. In the worst-case scenario, they might even find themselves so addicted to Chrome that they give up Microsoft's operating system altogether, switching over to Google's Chrome OS.
Will a two-minute anime-inspired video bring the power users back? Maybe not, but at least Microsoft is trying.