Microsoft preps auto IE8 update amidst dramatic usage share decline

Redmond (WA) – As IE8’s adoption rates lag far behind initial expectations, Microsoft prepares its most powerful tool to push the browser out to user computers. The company said that it is preparing an Automatic Update/Windows Update targeting IE6 and IE7 users, which make currently make up about 93% of the IE user base. The update will be published in the third week of April. And we wonder: Can it slow the rapid decline of IE market share?

Microsoft has been carefully rolling out IE8 that requires most users to actively request the download of the software. Last week, the company began offering automatic updates to users who were running  pre-release versions of IE8 (Beta 2 or Release Candidate 1) of the software and IE6 and IE7 users will see this automatic update appear this week, Microsoft confirmed in a blog post.

According to Net Applications, IE8 has been gaining market share, but on a pace that is behind expectations. If Net Applications is right, IE8 hit a record 4.36% yesterday, but may fall back into the 4.0% range today as more people are using other browsers such as IE6 at work.

Overall IE market share has suffered a rather substantial decline over the past week. Overall market share dipped to 60.90% on Saturday, which was down from 62.74% on Saturday one week before. IE7 has been losing market share at about the pace of IE8 gains and ended up at about 42.93%% on Friday and recovered to 44.00% on Sunday. That, however, was down from 44.54% and 45.82% in the prior week. IE6, which sees its highest usage shares during the week, stood at 15.89% on Friday and 12.52% on Sunday, down from 19.03% and 12.86%, respectively.

It is interesting to note that Firefox posted unusually strong gains in the same time frame, according to Net Applications. The browser jumped above 25% market share for the first time on Friday and hit a high of 25.91% on Saturday. That translates into a 2.22 point gain from 23.69% in just one week. The market share for Safari remained at about the same week-over week (at about 9.5-9.6% during the weekend) while Chrome showed slight gains to 1.49% on Sunday and Opera jumped a few points to 0.81% on the same day.

If the data provided by Net Applications is correct, then it is clear that Microsoft needs to push out its Auto Update as quickly as possible. However, since IE8 failed to attract enough users to compensate for the losses IE6 and IE7 are posting these days, it will be interesting to see how quickly Microsoft can transition its users to the new browser, especially since it is not a mandatory update. Users will be able to choose whether they want to upgrade or not.