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Internet Explorer’s Death Spiral

News comes from the web-watchers at Net Applications that Internet Explorer's market share has dropped below 60%. This is an historic all-time low for the browser that once thoroughly dominated the market- so thoroughly, in fact,  that there was a time when developers wouldn't bother coding for anything else. Given Microsoft's horrifically poor track record of browser usability, security, and high-handedness with its user base, is there anything the Spin Doctors in Redmond can to to reverse this trend? And more importantly, would anyone even want them to?

Personally, I'm no great fan of IE, and I haven't been since the day that its built-in lack of security allowed a simple web exploit to take over my browser, wipe out my bookmarks, lock my homepage to a porn site, and start spewing a never ending stream of pop-up windows that couldn't be closed. Yeah, that was it for me. I downloaded Firefox, installed it, and I never went back.

And so far, Firefox has done right by me. It almost never crashes, hangs, or gets infected.  With its vastly better security and awe-inspiring selection of cool add-ons (nearly all of which are free), the web has been a safer, more accomodating place. Tabbed browsing alone was worth the switch. (Fortunately for die-hard MS users, Microsoft "innovated" their way to include tabbed browsing in IE less than two years later. Way to keep on top of things, guys! )

Note to Opera users: Yes, yes, I know Opera had tabbed browsing first, but that's not my point. Now go finish your Lunchables, okay?

So fast-forward to 2010…IE is desperately trying to catch up in a race that's already been won. By staunchly avoiding any meaningful updates to its browser for years, Microsoft now sounds a lot like the slowest kid on the block, yelling, "Wait for me, I'm the leader!"

Just in case you're wondering where things stand, here's an infographic that should make things clearer:

Chrome, by the way, is the fastest growing browser, both in raw numbers and in percentages. It's well ahead of Safari and it has more than tripled its share within the last 12 months. Hello Google, comin' on strong.  I don't use Chrome, mostly because Firefox has some add-ons and extensions  I really, really like…but once they're ported to Chrome, who knows? Maybe I'll switch, maybe I won't. That's the beauty of Open Source- you get to choose. But what's the chance of any of  those extensions being ported to Internet Explorer? Less than zero. And that's another reason why Explorer's market share is dropping like Lady GaGa at a frat party: it's about as customizable as a wet brick.

The downward trend of Microsoft's browser share is irreversible, because it has no place to go but down. This time next year, who knows, maybe it'll be 40% or less. The actual number isn't as important as is the absolutely unimpeachable fact that it's dropping. As both a developer and as an end-user, I'm glad.

So the answer to my original questions is that NO, there isn't enough Spin Juice or Marketing Jazz in the known Universe to reverse Internet Explorer's death spiral. Ain't gonna happen. And NO, I don't think we would want it to even if it was possible. Choice is good, and Microsoft has shown that they're the equivalent of a drunk driver when it comes to browsers: reckless, irresponsible, and generally uncaring as to the damage they've caused. Case in point: if not for Internet Explorer, botnets would be a theoretical concept, not a fact of everyday life. And since botnets are now a major source of spam and automated exploits, you can thank Internet Explorer (and Windows poor security model) for them, too.

Maybe someday IE will be good enough for me to use again (I'm not exactly holding my breath here), but until then it's nice to know that there are other choices, and lots of them.

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