Why Internet Explorer 9 will never be number one

IE 9 has what it takes to be a leading Web browser, but it is unlikely to dominate because of its limited OS compatibility

Internet Explorer 9 will be officially available Monday, March 14. Microsoft has a dominant, but dwindling stake in the overall browser market, led by Internet Explorer 8. The reality, though, is that there is virtually no chance that Internet Explorer 9 will be as successful as IE8.

Internet Explorer 9 is a solid Web browser. It has been very successful and received much critical acclaim during its beta testing phase. Its hardware accelerated graphics yield blazing fast results, and the new features and functions in IE9 make the Web a more integrated part of the Windows PC experience.

The catch there, though, is that it is a part of the "Windows" PC experience. Internet Explorer has always had a slight handicap when it comes to browser market share. While browsers like Firefox and Chrome are available for Mac OS X and Linux systems as well as Windows, Internet Explorer is only compatible with Windows. So, right off the bat, there is 10 percent or so of the market that Microsoft will never get.

Even with one proverbial hand tied behind its back, Internet Explorer 8 has risen to be the number one browser, with Internet Explorer 6 in third place, followed by Internet Explorer 7 in fourth. Internet Explorer 8 alone commands 35 percent of the browser market.

So...why then would it not be reasonable to expect that Internet Explorer 9 will achieve similar success? Well, because with IE9 Microsoft has painted itself into an even smaller corner. While its predecessors are limited to the Windows operating system as a whole, IE9 is only compatible with Windows Vista (SP2 or greater), and Windows 7. Based on current OS market numbers, Windows XP still has more than half of the market, and the entire combined share of Windows 7 and Windows Vista PCs is less than the 35 percent share that IE8 has now.

Granted, none of the math is that simple. There isn't necessarily a direct one-to-one relationship between the OS market share numbers and the browser market. Plus, many of those who have embraced IE8 are arguably the ones most likely to stay on the cutting edge and make the switch to IE9. That means that IE8 would drop precipitously, and IE9 could capture a significant portion of the current IE8 market share.

That said, IE9 is starting out with a distinct disadvantage because by default it can only work with about a third of the PCs out there. I expect that IE9 will be successful, but its success will have to be filtered through a lens that includes only browser adoption on Windows Vista and Windows 7.

Maybe by the time we get to Internet Explorer 10 the world will have transitioned off of Windows XP and it will be a more even fight.

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Tony Bradley

PC World (US online)
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