Firefox's market share up fourth consecutive month

Mozilla Corp.'s Firefox owned more than 17% of the browser market in February, the fourth consecutive month that the open-source browser has boosted is share, a Web measurement company said Sunday.

According to Net Applications Inc., Firefox accounted for 17.3% of all browsers used last month to reach the 40,000 sites it tracks worldwide. That's up about a quarter of a percentage point over January, and an increase of 2.3 points since October 2007. Firefox's share has increased in each of the last four months.

Firefox 3.0, which remains in beta testing, also surged during February and nearly doubled in usage share from .10% in January to .18% last month. Mozilla developers halted changes to Firefox 3.0 Beta 4 a week ago in anticipation of releasing the build sometime early this month, and will make a decision Monday whether to add yet another beta to the process, or move on to the release candidate stage.

Apple Inc.'s Safari browser, which has also seen its share grow recently, took a dip in February, however. The Mac OS X browser accounted for 5.7% of those used last month, off slightly from the 5.8% of the month before, but still up nearly a percentage point from the same time last year.

Both Firefox and Safari, and to a lesser extent Opera Software ASA's flagship browser, have made inroads at the expense of Microsoft's Internet Explorer. IE accounted for 74.9% of the browsers used last month, the eighth month running that Microsoft's browser's share has dropped. A year ago, IE's share stood at 79.4%.

Although IE 7 use continued to increase -- during February it posted a 44% share, up slightly from 43.9% the month before -- the older IE 6 remained popular; 30.6% of the users who surfed to the sites Net Applications monitored used the seven-year-old browser.

That's one of the problems Microsoft faces as it gets ready to unveil Internet Explorer 8 at this week's MIX08, the Microsoft-sponsored Web developer conference that kicks off Wednesday in Las Vegas. IE 8, which reportedly has already reached a small number of beta testers and may be rolled out to the general public soon, must answer calls by developers and competitors to abide by Internet standards without breaking the large number of sites designed for the quirks of IE 6.

In December, Microsoft bowed to pressure from outsiders -- and perhaps from chairman Bill Gates as well -- and revealed some details of the new browser. Since then, its developers have been regularly posting to the IE blog, most recently in late January, when Chris Wilson, an IE platform architect, spelled out a new "super standards" mode that will debut with IE 8. The news drew harsh criticism from some Web developers, while others agreed with Wilson but urged Microsoft to make the mode the default.

Net Application's browser share and trend data is available online.

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