Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) keeps giving up rope in the Web browser tug-of-war.

The latest data out of market watcher Net Applications shows the software giant's Internet Explorer commanding 68.2% of the browser market. That is certainly a thick slice, but the trend is problematic. Internet Explorer commanded 79% and 83% market share chunks for all of 2007 and 2006, respectively.

December 2008

Market Share

Internet Explorer

68.2%

Firefox

21.3%

Safari

7.9%

Chrome

1%

Others

1.6%

Source: Net Applications.

Eyeing the competition is scary. Sure, June's debut of Mozilla Foundation's Firefox 3 was a hit. It was downloaded more than 8.3 million times the day it came out. However, it can't make Microsoft feel any better to see Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome as distant market share nibblers.

Mr. Softy is bumping into Apple and Google everywhere it turns these days. Whether the name of the game is portable media players, paid search, mobile operating systems, computing, or cloud computing, they keep showing up at too many of the same parties.

This comes at an awkward time for Microsoft. Justifiably or not, Microsoft's Vista has gotten a bad rap. Last week introduced a new black eye to Microsoft's rep, when it turns out that its 30-gig Zune media players are only operable 365 days a year. That normally wouldn't be a problem, but 2008 was a leap year, leaving many Zune owners incensed and without a soundtrack to chronicle the anger on the last day of the year.

So how can it ignore not just the growing popularity of Firefox's flexibility, but Safari and Chrome in the browser space? Safari is gaining in popularity as Macs and iPhones become more common. Chrome is a wee player, but surpassing Opera and Netscape is a good start for the spunky freshman.

Remember when "Microsoft" and "monopoly" used to be synonymous? It's a different playing field now. Microsoft's Office may seem unbeatable, but cheap cloud computing solutions are being offered by Google, Sun Microsystems (NASDAQ:JAVA), and even Adobe (NASDAQ:ADBE) these days. Windows is being threatened as the operating system of choice by Apple's resurgence and last year's surge of Linux-propelled netbooks.

With Microsoft's fingers blistering as it tugs on that rope, nobody wants to cut it some slack these days.

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