Surprising analysts with the speed of its decline, AOL Time Warner's Netscape Navigator browser has lost nearly half its market share in the past seven months.
Netscape now has just seven per cent of the global browser market, down from the 12 per cent it held for over a year before last September, according to WebSideStory's StatMarket unit which tracks internet usage daily.
Netscape has suffered at the hands of Microsoft's growing dominance in the browser market and in particular Internet Explorer (IE) 6.0.
The fall in popularity means that AOL must decide whether to support the software or hand over the browser market to Microsoft.
"AOL has to decide if it gives up on the browser battle does that mean it loses the war as well?" said Geoff Johnston, vice president at StatMarket.
Over the past seven months IE 6.0 has grown from just 2.4 per cent to make up 30 per cent of the worldwide market. That puts it in second place in terms of market share behind IE 5.0, and gives Microsoft more than 90 per cent of the market.
That dominance is vital, say analysts. "He who controls the browser market controls the web in some ways," said Johnston.
Netscape was expected to hold steady with a 12 per cent share but its sudden decline is evidence of Microsoft's growing market power. "Microsoft's powerful marketing machine finally got to many Netscape users," explained Johnston.
But the battle for browser share may not yet be over. AOL's recent move to trial Netscape technology as a replacement for the IE-based software currently used by all its subscribers would prove a significant boost for Netscape.
With all AOL members using Netscape the company would have around a 25 per cent worldwide share, according to StatMarket.
While Netscape has a seven per cent share of the worldwide browser market, fewer than seven per cent of UK internet surfers use Netscape. In the US it still holds a double-digit share and in Germany around 20 per cent.
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