Microsoft loses market share to rivals for OS, browser

Microsoft Corp.’s Windows OS last month took its biggest market share dive in the past two years, erasing gains made in two of the past three months and sending the operating system’s share under 90 per cent for the first time, an Internet measurement company reported today.

In November, 89.6 per cent of users who connected to the Web sites that Net Applications Inc. monitors did so from systems powered by Windows, a drop of 0.84 of a percentage point from October. The decrease was the largest slip by Windows in the past two years and easily bested other recent down months, including May 2008 and December 2007, when Windows lost 0.51 and 0.63 percentage points, respectively.

Apple Inc.’s Mac OS X, meanwhile, posted its biggest gain in the same two-year period, growing by 0.66 percentage point to end the month at 8.9 per cent. November was the third month running that Apple’s operating system remained above 8 per cent.

Vince Vizzaccarro, Net Applications’ executive vice president of marketing, attributed Windows’ slip to some of the same factors he credited with pushing down the market share of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser.

“The more home users who are online, using Macs and Firefox and Safari, the more those shares go up,” he said. November was notable for a higher-than-average number of weekend days, as well as the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S., he said.

Windows’ share typically falls on weekends and after work hours, as users surf from home computers, a larger percentage of which run Mac OS X than do work machines.

Notable in Windows’ downturn was a dramatic drop in share of the aged Windows XP — the largest decrease since January 2008 — and a major uptick in Windows Vista’s share. While XP lost 1.81 percentage points, Vista gained back 1.16 points of that, its largest move since last January.

Windows 2000, the only other edition that Net Applications tracks, continued its slide toward 1 per cent, falling to 1.56 per cent during November.

As expected, Vista cracked the 20 per cent mark for the first time last month, ending November with a 20.45 per cent share.

Windows’ share shows no sign of stopping its slow slide; in the past 12 months, Microsoft’s market share has fallen from 91.79 per cent, a decrease of more than 2 percentage points. During the same period, Apple has increased its operating system market share by 1.56 points, or a gain of 21.3 per cent.

Net Applications also noted a small boost in market share for the open-source Linux operating system, which grew from 0.71 per cent in October to 0.83 per cent last month. In August and September, however, Linux had a share above the 0.9 per cent mark.

Operating system market share data is available at Net Applications’ site.

The market share of Microsoft Corp.’s Internet Explorer dropped under the 70 per cent mark last month for the first time since Web metrics vendor Net Applications Inc. started keeping tabs on browsers, the company said today.

IE slipped to a 69.8 per cent share, down from October’s 71.3 per cent and off 7.6 percentage points in the past year.

Rival browsers from Mozilla Corp., Apple Inc. and Google Inc., meanwhile, cashed in on IE’s slide and posted gains for the month, according to Net Applications’ data, which is culled from visitors to the thousands of Web sites the company monitors for clients.

Mozilla’s Firefox, which briefly popped above the 20 per cent share bar during October, solidified that surge in November to end the month at 20.8 per cent, an increase of 0.8 percentage points, the largest one-month increase since March 2007.

Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome also gained in October, with Safari accounting for 7.1 per cent of users — up 0.6 percentage points — while Google climbed just 0.1 points.

Vizzaccarro connected IE’s slide — and Firefox’s and Safari’s impressive increases — to a pair of factors.

“The more home users who are online, using Firefox and Safari at home rather than IE, the more those browsers’ shares go up,” he said. With November including the Thanksgiving holiday in the U.S. and more weekend days this year — 10 such days, versus an average of 8.7 per month — users were at home more than usual.

Net Applications’ data has consistently shown that Firefox and Safari usage climbs on weekends and after work hours, as users surf from home computers rather than from work machines, which typically run Microsoft’s IE.

“I expect Firefox and Safari to go up in December, too,” said Vizzaccarro, citing the higher-than-average number of at-home days for most people this month.

The other factor, he said, is the continued climb in Firefox’s share. In the past two years, for example, Firefox’s usage share has grown 48 per cent, and although there have been times when its growth has stalled, it has posted relatively steady increases.

Safari has also consistently gained share, although not at the same pace as Firefox. Last month’s increase, however, was the biggest in the past two years for Apple’s browser.

Google’s Chrome, which came out strong in early September but later faded, closed November with 0.83 per cent, up a bit from October’s 0.74 per cent. Chrome remains in beta and is still available only for Windows XP and Vista.

Of the top four non-Microsoft browsers, only Opera Software ASA’s flagship product dropped in share during November; it fell to 0.71 per cent from October’s 0.75 per cent.

While Vizzaccarro praised Microsoft’s still-in-development IE8, calling it a “pretty nice browser,” he wasn’t optimistic that its arrival would turn the tide. “Because IE is used much more in corporations, and they’re slower to change, IE8 won’t have the same impact as a major Firefox or Safari release,” he said.

Microsoft recently said that it will launch IE8 in 2009, sometime after a “release candidate” build is made available during the first three months of next year.

And don’t forget unemployment, Vizzaccarro said, arguing that with more people out of work, it will be even tougher for IE to regain ground. “You have to factor for the unemployment rate, too,” he said. “That’s put a lot more users at home as well, which means more users using Firefox and Safari, not IE.”

According to statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor, the unemployment rate in the U.S. rose from 6.1 per cent to 6.5 per cent during October. Last month’s numbers are due out at the end of this week.

Net Applications’ browser share data is available online.

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