In an effort to give us a glimpse into how well they are transitioning from a software company to "a devices and services company," Microsoft revealed a By the Numbers site yesterday. But one fact may have revealed a little too much information from Microsoft: the desktop browser share for Internet Explorer.
The tile is crystal clear: the Internet Explorer icon with the words 56.5 percent. Click the tile and it opens to reveal "Internet Explorer’s usage share was over 56 percent worldwide in July 2013."
That may sound great, but if you follow the browser market at all, then your first reaction might echo mine: only 56.5%?
There was a time, after all, that Internet Explorer once held a far greater market share, with 78.42% of the market share in January 2008, according to the same source Microsoft cited on its Numbers page, Net Market Share. In those days, it was mostly IE vs. Mozilla Firefox vs. Opera. But five years ago next month, Chrome entered the game, and slowly but surely took market share away from IE and the other browsers.
To its credit, this is not the worst IE's market share has been—to date, that low mark was hit in December 2011, when IE browser share was 51.87%, Chrome 19.11% and Firefox 21.83%.
The latest full month figures for July 2013 reveal a slightly better leadership position for IE, which has slowly climbed to 56.61%, with Firefox down to 18.29% and Chrome at 17.76%. Looking at the trend over time, it does indeed appear that IE has recaptured some share away from Chrome and Firefox, with Safari also picking up some growth on the other side as well.
No one can take away from Microsoft that it has been a market leader for browsers since practically day one of its existence, and as such, you can't knock 56% of the desktop market share too much.
But this is desktop market share, which doesn't reflect how Microsoft is doing on the fastest-growing platform sector: mobile. And there, if you poke around the Net Market Share site a little more, things are far less pretty.
Here, Microsoft is barely on the map of browsers, hanging around at the 1.88% share mark for July. In this world, Safari is the clear winner with 58.75% share, Android browser at 20.59%, Opera Mini with 9.42% and Chrome at 4.44%.
Those are numbers that don't bode well for a Microsoft that's trying to remake itself as devices and services company. Browsers, are very much the gateway software into the services that companies like Apple, Google and Microsoft provide. Sure, you can access Google services with Safari, and Apple cloud services with Chrome, but generally the trends for services tend to follow the browser, especially for mobile users who just want all their apps to live harmoniously. In that light, this means that Apple services benefit from 58.75% of the market and Google services get 25.03% of browser share, since Android Browser and Chrome will point to Google.
So while Microsoft is still dominant in the desktop sector for its browser, that is a sector that is showing strong evidence of contraction, or at the very least slowing sales. In the sector that is exploding—mobile—Microsoft is barely a blip as a browser presence.
There are ways to fix this, of course, and we are seeing it now: Microsoft has built apps that will tie directly into their services like SkyDrive (iOS, Android) and Office 365 (iOS, Android). These apps aren't completely polished, but they will have to be improved soon.
Microsoft may also end up building web services that are far more standards compliant than they ever have in the past.
We are witnessing a huge metamorphosis in action: Microsoft was long the dominant player on the dominant platform, and now that is no longer the case in any sense of the word. So, they embrace mobile, with their own platform and re-tooled services for all devices. They embrace cloud with Windows Azure, trying to capture disenfranchised IT shops before they shift to Linux or Solaris in the cloud. They (re)embrace embedded, this time with an eye on making an impact in the nascent Internet of Things.
This is time of great change for Microsoft as it strains to hang on to an enterprise and consumer market that is moving out from under them every day. The numbers don't lie.