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Will IE8 help Microsoft pull back its diminishing browser market share?

written by: John Lister•edited by: Eric Stallsworth•updated: 9/24/2009

Internet Explorer is still the most popular browser on the markey, but the gap is narrowing. We explore whether the latest edition can reverse that trend.

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    How badly is Microsoft doing in the browser market?

    At one point in 2004 Internet Explorer was used by around 95% of internet users. Today, depending on the source, the area covered, and the method of measurement, that figure is somewhere around 55-65%. In some recent surveys, Mozilla’ Firefox was very close to overtaking Internet Explorer 7 as the most popular browser, though that is a slightly unfair point as the Internet Explorer audience is split across several editions.

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    What new features did IE 8 bring?

    Some of the key usability features which debuted in IE8 included a smart address bar (which attempts to guess which website addresses you are typing based on past use), private browsing mode (which means the sites you visit are not kept in your browser history), and a memory management system which means that if one site freezes or crashes, any others you have open will still be accessible.

    There are also new security features, most notably a tool to prevent clickjacking. This is where hackers use transparent webpages to trick site visitors into clicking a button to install rogue software, thinking they are clicking something else.

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    Will these features boost IE’s market share?

    It seems unlikely. Many of these features were already available in rival browsers. In any case, as a general rule people do not switch from a rival browser to Internet Explorer (except where they have briefly tried a rival and did not like it.) Microsoft’s main strategy is making Internet Explorer the default option and making it good enough that many users do not feel the need to try a different browser.

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    What role will Windows 7 play?

    Microsoft’s latest operating system comes amid growing pressure for the firm to make it easier for people installing Windows to choose between rival browsers. While there is nothing to stop people installing a rival browser, some authorities believe making Internet Explorer the default browser in Windows, and the only one ready installed, gives it an unfair advantage.

    The European Union spent several years investigating the issue and issued a “ruling in principle” in early 2009 to say that bundling Internet Explorer was unfair. At the time of writing (September 2009), the EU had not formally upheld this verdict or issued any punishment. However, the two sides have been in negotiations for a settlement.

    Microsoft had threatened to simply sell Windows 7 without a browser in Europe, though it seems unlike it would have wanted to do so. Microsoft and the EU have negotiated on the issue and it appears that European copies of Windows 7 may include a menu during the set-up process which offers users a choice between different browsers. While this is unlikely to lead to widespread abandonment of Internet Explorer (simply because so many users are only familiar and comfortable with the Microsoft browser), it certainly won’t boost Microsoft’s market share.

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    Internet Explorer's diminishing share