Microsoft may be nearly ready to release Internet Explorer 8, but if current trends are any indication, IE's reign as king of the browsers is quickly coming to an end.
IE's Falling Market Share
Statistics published Monday by tech analysis firm Net Applications show IE holding 67.55 percent of the worldwide browser market in January of 2009. That's down a full 7.92 percent from the same time one year ago. The stats show IE steadily falling almost every month in the year-long period.
Over the same time, Firefox has been gaining ground and growing its global userbase. The Mozilla browser commanded 21.53 percent of the worldwide market in January 2009, Net Applications' data shows, up 0.19 percent from the previous month and 4.55 percent from the same time in 2008.
Safari, Chrome, and Opera also all increased their market shares over the past year.
IE in the Future
It was just a few years ago that Internet Explorer held a whopping 95 percent of the worldwide browser market. Since then, of course, Firefox and the other "alternative" browsers have become more mainstream and more widely accepted, and the year-to-year rate of IE's user loss has steadily increased.
As other browsers receive more exposure, it's entirely feasible that the rates of IE's loss and the other browsers' growth will continue to increase. I'm not even going to make that assumption now, though. Even just assuming the rates stay consistent with what we saw over the past 12 months, it's safe to say IE's domination will be done within the next three years.
Using a simple mathematical analysis, I applied the same rate of change from the past year to future years. In the case of IE, the browser lost 10.4942 percent of its total share from January 2008 to January 2009. If it continued to drop at the same rate, here's what we could expect to see:
Internet Explorer Projection
-- January 2010: 60.46 percent of the worldwide browser market
-- January 2011: 54.12 percent of the worldwide browser market
-- January 2012: 48.44 percent of the worldwide browser market
Applying the same principles to Firefox, the browser gained 26.7962 percent of its total share from January 2008 to January 2009. If it continued to grow at the same rate, we could expect the following:
-- January 2010: 27.30 percent of the worldwide browser market
-- January 2011: 34.62 percent of the worldwide browser market
-- January 2012: 43.90 percent of the worldwide browser market
By 2012, then, IE and Firefox would be less than 5 percentage points apart, if this past year's trends were to continue.
The Big Picture for Browsers
Again, the simple projections above are not taking into account the probable increased rates of growth Firefox and the other browsers could see as they gain greater exposure. The prospect of Microsoft being required to include rival browsers in future versions of Windows could add to that effect in a significant way.
Microsoft's hope is that IE 8 will win back its comfortable lead in the browser game. The first release candidate of IE 8 came out last week and is said to be an "effectively complete and done" product that'll be mirrored in the final version. The browser is an enormous step up from previous IE versions, but I'd be very surprised if any of its features are unique enough to convince Firefox, Safari, or Opera users to make the leap — or, for that matter, to convince non-devoted IE users not to jump ship themselves in the future.
It seems, then, to be only a matter of time before IE loses its crown and the browser market becomes more evenly divided. Given all of the factors at play, looking ahead to January of 2012 may be a generous estimation. Unless Microsoft has some sort of miracle up its sleeve, the changing of guards may happen even sooner than we think.