Firefox Dethrones IE, But Its Real Battle is With Chrome

Firefox has taken the number one spot in browser market share in Europe for the first time, according to a survey by traffic-statistics company StatCounter. The firm’s numbers show that Firefox had just over 38 percent of the European browser market in December, compared with a little less than 37 percent for Internet Explorer (s msft). But the real battle for Firefox is with Chrome, the Google (s goog) browser that continues to gain market share at a fairly rapid pace — most of the decline in IE’s share has come as a result of Chrome’s advances.

StatCounter said that its research shows Chrome almost tripling its market share in Europe from just over 5 percent last December to almost 15 percent last month. This could be a result of the European Commission’s pressure on Microsoft to offer Windows users a choice of browsers rather than just the default Internet Explorer, according to StatCounter CEO Aodhan Cullen. “We are probably seeing the impact of the agreement between European Commission competition authorities and Microsoft, to offer EU users a choice and menu of browsers,” said Cullen. The software giant started offering a menu of choices last March as part of a deal with the EU.

In the absence of such a mandate in North America, meanwhile, Firefox is still far behind Internet Explorer in market share — StatCounter figures show that the Microsoft browser has close to 49 percent of the market, while Firefox has just a little more than 26 percent, and Chrome has close to 13 percent. Apple’s Safari browser is in fourth place with a little over 10 percent market share.

When it comes to global market share, web-analytics firm NetApplications said Monday its statistics show Internet Explorer ended the year with 57 percent of the worldwide browser market, down from 67 percent in 2009. As with the StatCounter numbers, Chrome was the main beneficiary of IE’s decline; it climbed from just over 2.5 percent market share in 2009 to almost 10 percent, NetApplications said. Firefox, meanwhile, fell from 24.5 percent market share in January of last year to less than 23 percent in December.

Apart from the growing competitiveness of Google’s browser, the numbers from StatCounter and NetApplications show just how difficult it is to unseat a dominant browser such as Internet Explorer — particularly when that browser is the default in the world’s most popular operating system for consumer PCs.

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Post and thumbnail photo courtesy of Flickr user Lord Colus