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Microsoft shoots to shorten Internet Explorer's long tail

Gregg Keizer | May 29, 2014
Microsoft today spelled out its priorities for Internet Explorer, and at the top of the list is to get users on the latest version possible. That's easier said than done, however.

Microsoft today spelled out priorities for its Internet Explorer (IE) browser, and at the top of the list is "get users current."

But while the company has made some strides in getting that job done, it's also left a greater proportion of its users behind than any other browser maker.

"Everyone wins when more IE users are running the latest version of the browser," said Sam George, an IE program manager, in a Wednesday blog aimed at Web developers. "We will continue to build features — like Enterprise Mode IE — and partner with teams internal and external to Microsoft to enable users and businesses to confidently move to the latest version of IE."

Laudable. But how has Microsoft done?

According to data from Web analytics company Net Applications, Internet Explorer 11 (IE11), the newest version — launched in October 2013 for Windows 8, then released in November to Windows 7 users — accounted for 29% of all copies of IE used to go online in April.

Spelled out another way, 71% of IE users ran a version other than the newest on their PCs.

Other browser — Apple, Google and Mozilla — have larger portions of their desktop user base on the latest versions, and corresponding smaller shares running older editions.

Last month, Apple had about 49% of all Safari users on the newest version, Safari 7. Google boasted 48% on its latest, Chrome 34. Mozilla took top honors with 72% on Firefox 28. (Some of the difference between Chrome and Firefox, both of which use automatic updates to keep customers current, can be attributed to timing: Chrome updated to version 34 on April 8, so for a week last month Chrome 33 was the newest; Mozilla pushed users to Firefox 28 on March 18, and didn't update to Firefox 29 until April 29, giving the former the entire month, less two days, to accumulate share in Net Applications' tracking.)

Microsoft, like its rivals, also insists on automatic upgrades to the latest IE. So why does it trail the competition in the keep-current sweepstakes?

Unlike Apple, Google and Mozilla, which make it either impossible or difficult to stymie auto-updates, Microsoft both blocks some versions from installing on some editions of Windows, and lets customers, primarily businesses, delay deployment of the newest by providing upgrade blocking tools.

Windows XP, for example, may be retired, but it still powers an impressive fraction of all Windows installs: By Net Applications' tally, 29% of all Windows desktops ran XP in April. Because IE8 is the newest version of Microsoft's browser that runs on XP, that browser's share has remained remarkably high. In April, 36% of all copies of IE that went online were IE8.


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