Safari loses, Firefox gains market share

Apple's browser posts biggest drop in 20 months

Although Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer (IE) continued to bleed market share last month, Apple Inc.'s Safari was an even bigger loser during February, an Internet metrics company said Monday.

Microsoft's browser lost 0.04 of a percentage point of its market share to end February with 67.5 percent, another record low for IE since Net Applications began tracking browser data in 2005. Last month's decline, however, was the smallest since July 2008, when IE actually gained share, and significantly less than its 12-month average of 0.7 percent. Even so, in the last 12 months, IE has slipped 7.4 percentage points.

Within Microsoft's total, the share of users running Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) increased slightly last month from January, climbing to 1.17 from 0.92 percent. The release candidate of IE8, dubbed RC1, has been available for about five weeks, making February the first full month of its public availability.

But for all of IE's problems, Safari slid more last month.

Apple's browser, which had been on a three-month winning streak during which it gained 1.5 percentage points, slipped by 0.3 of a percentage point compared to the month before, said Vince Vizzaccaro, Net Applications' executive vice president of marketing. "That was surprising. We've been seeing Safari gain share lately."

But he offered caveats about drawing conclusions from Net Applications' data. "Safari could have grown significantly, but it grew less significantly than, say, IE," said Vizzaccaro. Net Applications measures browser usage by tracking the machines that visit the 40,000-some sites it monitors for clients.

He also offered a possible explanation for Safari's drop, the browser's largest one-month fall since June 2007. "It might be due to the month," he said. "In December [2008] and January [2009] there was a lot more browsing from home because of holidays and vacation time those months. So one way to look at Safari's numbers is that [overall usage] may not have gone down, but they look down compared to January and December, when more people were at home."

Previously, Vizzaccaro has maintained that Net Applications' data shows that use of non-Microsoft browsers climbs after work hours, on weekends and during holidays, as users surf from home computers rather than from work machines, which are far more likely to run Microsoft's IE. That was in evidence, he said earlier this year, during December, when IE's share plunged and rivals' shares jumped.

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