Is Internet Explorer a Goner? Will It Ever Be?

By  |  Tuesday, February 3, 2009 at 1:10 am

RIP IE“Soon, Majority of Web Users Will No Longer Use IE.” That’s the headline on a story by Marshall Kirkpatrick over at ReadWriteWeb, reporting on browser market-share numbers from Net applications that have IE being used by 67.5 percent of Internet users, down 7 percent in a year–and down from 90+ percent a few years ago.

Marshall’s title is provocative–is the day really nearing when IE users will be in the minority? (Actually, he defines “soon” loosely, since he says it might take a few years.) I don’t think there’s any real way to project where IE will be in the future based on its decline in recent years. Absent some truly startling development–I once suggested that Microsoft get out of the browser business and simply use Firefox as the basis for Windows’ browser, but it wasn’t listening, apparently–there must be some floor below which IE usage won’t fall. A meaningful chunk of Windows users consists of folks who give little or no thought to Web browsers, and will therefore use whatever Microsoft provides; the big question is just how large that chunk is.

Among computer users who do make a conscious decision to choose a particular browser, IE usage may already be well under fifty percent. On Technologizer at the moment, 27 percent of users run IE. (49 percent opt for Firefox, 11 percent Safari, 6 percent Chrome, and 4 percent Opera.) Seventy-two percent of Technologizer readers use Windows; even when you just consider those ones, far more choose not to use IE than to use it.

Of course, Technologizer is a relatively small site, and its visitors aren’t representative of the teeming masses of tech users. (Hey, you’re a lot smarter, right?) Back when I was at the much larger and more venerable Web site known as PC World, I had a habit of occasionally checking into browser usage among its visitors and writing about it–which was particularly fun starting in November 2004, when Firefox showed up and began to chip away at the IE hegemony.

I’m happy to say that my pals at PC World are indulgently allowing me to continue to check out browser usage on their site. Back in early 2004, more than ninety percent of PCW visitors used IE–and as of last month, that percentage has fallen to just a hair below 50 percent. If PCW fans are a leading indicator of where everyone else is heading–and they are–it might indeed not be long before IE users are a minority. But I wouldn’t be surprised if IE usage fell to somewhere around 40 percent and just stayed there for quite a few years. (Unless Windows usage dwindles more quickly than I expect it will–which it might, but that’s a topic for another post.)

Meanwhile, I was a tad surprised to see that Firefox usage at PC World is down a bit, after four years of nearly continuous growth. In January, 33.11 percent of users ran Firefox; the highest month (so far) was April 2008, when 35.78 of visitors were Firefoxians. (April was right before I left PC World and therefore stopped obsessively blogging about its usage at Coincidence? Of course. Probably.I think.)

Time was when the vast majority of people who defected from IE went to Firefox. It’s still IE’s archrival–the only one that has a shot at overtaking IE among Web users at large anytime soon. But with Google Chrome gaining fans, Safari usage growing along with Mac sales, and Opera hanging in there, it seems equally possible that no browser will dominate. As I said in my review of Internet Explorer 8 RC1, we live in an era in which your choice of browser is just not that big a deal.

So where do you think IE is headed? Time for a quick T-Poll:


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12 Comments For This Post

  1. Tante Horst Says:

    I can imagine that he’s right. IE is on the same path Netscape was some years ago.
    Ignorance and pride of Microsoft are the base, missing innnovation combined with ongoing security issues the driver. And lack of credibility is the deathblow of the still-market-leader.
    No marketing tricks, no bundling with OS might help anymore.
    Thanks god! Who would shed a tear in times of Chrome & Co?

  2. David Hamilton Says:

    Another browser statistics site is at, and to me it is significant in that it is frequented by web developers – surely where those developing for the web go, the masses will, eventually, follow.

    I note that in the stats for January 2009, the share for Firefox for the first time exceeded the combined values for IE6, 7 & 8. Also interesting is that the share for IE7 has been dropping for three straight months.

  3. Patrick Moorhead Says:

    I am probably an exception, but I find using multiple browsers make me more productive. I switched from IE to FF a few weeks back for my primary browser. Corporate apps where I work require IE, though, like SAP-based apps. For my personal apps where I need access to a different set of cookies and log-ins for similar FF apps, I choose Chrome. Like I said, I am the probably exception.

  4. Hank O'Donnell Says:

    IE and Safari will maintain and endure by being the default browser for their perspective OS platform. Unless Windows and MAC parlay changes on product default inclusion all other browsers must be genuine and market well (e.g. FF and Chrome). Avid and Savvy users as with any product keep competition and product effectiveness in check.

  5. Charles Forsythe Says:

    My father insists that there are several web sites he uses which only work with Internet Explorer. One of the is Huntington Bank (an Ohio bank). I’m skeptical about that at this late date.

    Others are government information sites he uses for work. Those I am more inclined to believe, as they were probably written by the cheapest contractors available.

  6. Tante Horst Says:

    yeah, there are still sites out there working only with IE. But that is mostly based on Active-X requirements less on HTML/Javascript-Webdesign.
    And for sure Chrome is not perfect. Right now, it’s a lean and fast browser with little but well-thougth features. Hopefully that will stay as is!
    ..ask your father to switch to IE 8 and I promise you that he will come back crying and beg for Firefox 😉

  7. Mark Bright Says:

    I may be the exception. After years of using FF 1, 2 & 3 I have switched back to IE7/8 – I got fed up with how slow it was to load the browser… IE is ‘just there’. I still used FF3 for the RSS feeds, but with IE 8, even that is not a reason anymore.

    Like I said, recent IE’s work just fine, and are up and running quicker, and for most ‘normal’ web browsing the supposed speed improvments of the other rendering engines are just not noticible.

    I tried Chrome, but didn’t like the interface.

  8. Patrick Moorhead Says:

    Mark, it just goes to show how unique experiences are. I switched from IE to FF for the same reasons you moved from FF to IE. I love it!

  9. ediedi Says:

    some sites only work with ie – my online banking site is the only reason i installed win on bootcamp – sucks

  10. Marc Says:

    Though I am sure looking at PC World, a technology publication, is useful, does it really represent an actual non technology savvy web users profile (Which I venture to say are the majority of web users)? Your right in that tech users are more savvy and willing to use alternative browsers, so my question is are the average users willing?

  11. Tante Horst Says:

    I heard rumors that IE8 is using the browser engine of Opera. Don’t know if this is true. Has somebody checked the user agent or further information?
    I like Opera. It’s a feature-rich and well-designed but unfortunately it crashes on my machine from time to time 🙁
    So if IE8 has that good heart and brings more stability due to closer system integration, this might be a quite powerful browser. On the other hand, I probably won’t switch back.

  12. David Hamilton Says:

    Marc: IE is faster because many of its components are loaded by the OS at boot time. Good to see that the marketing decision to integrate IE into the OS has actually brought you some advantage.

    As a developer, I have noticed the reverse – that the integration of IE into the OS has led to MS putting in hacks that lead to bizarre side effects (for instance, whether the page comes from the web or the filesystem changed CSS loading behaviour in IE6).

    On banking: As a mac user, the browser support of the internet banking service was the prime selection criterion when I chose my business banking account. At the end of the day, if a bank does not have the ability to develop a professional standard website, should you be trusting them with your money?

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