According to researchers at Net Applications, use of Microsoft's Web browser, Internet Explorer, fell from 74 percent to 68 percent of the market by the end 2008. The main beneficiary of that decline was Mozilla Firefox, which jumped to 21 percent usage share in December, up from 18 percent in May. But browsers from Apple and Google also saw small gains in 2008 as well.
Mozilla Firefox is the modern descendent of the Netscape browser, which was itself based heavily on work first done on the Mosaic browser at the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputer Applications). Netscape famously issued its browser as Mozilla in early 1998 before being swallowed up by AOL; Mozilla continued as a non-profit organization until last year. Its main product is Firefox, which remains free and open source.
Apple's Safari browser was another indirect beneficiary of IE's decline in 2008, though one might most obviously attributed its success to the recent resurgence of the Mac computer platform, as most Safari users are Mac users. Safari now controls 8 percent of Web browser usage.
Google launched its Chrome browser in late 2008 to much fanfare, but that product has yet to garner a significant user base. Net Applications says that just 1 percent of surfers use Chrome as their browser.
As for Microsoft, the software giant is prepping its latest browser, Internet Explorer 8, for an early 2009 release. The company will also include IE 8 in its next OS version, Windows 7. In contrast to other browsers, IE 8 is actually gaining major new functionality at a surprisingly healthy clip; IE 8 will include such Accelerators, InPrivate Browsing, Web Slices, graphical search suggestions, and a security advance called the SmartScreen Filter.
Some related points should be noted, however. First, Net Applications issued a warning about its December survey results, noting that "the holiday season strongly favored residential over business usage ... This in turn increases the relative usage share of Mac, Firefox, Safari and other products that have relatively high residential usage." In other words, once businesses return to their normal schedules this month, IE could see a usage bump in January.
Second, while IE share overall did fall in 2008, most of that decline came from the older and increasingly obsolete IE 6 browser. Microsoft's current browser, IE 7, maintained its approximately 46 percent share all year.
Finally, it's worth pointing out that IE 6 dropped from about 46 percent to 26 percent of the market this year. But even though IE 6 is on the way out, it still commands almost as much usage share (26 percent) as Firefox, Safari, and Chrome combined (28 percent).