Staff Writer, CNET News.com
Alternative Web browsers Mozilla and Firefox experienced another month of growth at the expense of Microsoft's dominant Internet Explorer, according to an online study.
The percentage of Americans using Mozilla and Firefox, two open-source browsers funded by the Mozilla Foundation, grew to 6 percent in October from 5.2 percent in September and 3.5 percent in June. That 6 percent was split evenly between the two browsers.
While Microsoft's IE continued as the overwhelming market leader, it witnessed another marginal decline, this time a dip of 0.8 percent. IE claimed 95.5 percent of users in June, 93.7 percent in September, and 92.9 percent last month. The Opera browser and Apple Computer's Safari combined reached just more than 1 percent of users.
WebSideStory measures market share by embedding sensors on major Web sites for the Walt Disney Internet Group, Best Buy, Sony, DaimlerChrysler and Liz Claiborne. These sensors can tell which browsers visitors are using to view the sites.
In the big picture, Mozilla and Firefox are specks of dust compared with the near-ubiquity of Internet Explorer. But given IE's fifth consecutive month of decline and Mozilla/Firefox's fifth consecutive month of growth, analysts are beginning to wonder whether and when the shift will stop.
"What we're seeing is (Mozilla and Firefox) looking more like a vanguard than a flash in a pan," said Geoff Johnston, an analyst at WebSideStory.
The study comes just ahead of Firefox's official release on Nov. 9. The browser, based on Mozilla's open-source code, has experienced a surprising surge in popularity, reaching 5 million downloads two weeks ago, then later passing 7 million.
Last weekend, the Mozilla Foundation said the project has raised more than $250,000 during its 10-day donation drive. The money will be spent to promote Firefox 1.0's release. Developers working on Firefox hope the software will reach 10 percent U.S. penetration by the end of 2005.
Firefox may continue to show gains, but the software could reach a ceiling, according to WebSideStory's Johnston. Most of its users are technology-proficient early adopters rather than average Web surfers. "(Firefox) hasn't gotten to mainstream," he said.