Is Internet Explorer gaining or losing market share?

With the commercial releases of Internet Explorer (IE) 7 and Mozilla Firefox 2.0 scheduled for later this month, a new report suggests the Microsoft web browser's market share has reached its lowest level in two years.

According to website tools vendor Net Applications, as reported by technology site Ars Technica, as of September, IE has an 82.1 percent global market share, compared to the growing Firefox share of 12.46 percent. Apple's Safari netted a 3.53 percent share.

But a conflicting study released this week by showed IE is actually gaining users, with an 85.85 percent share, compared to Firefox (11.49 percent), Safari (1.61 percent), Opera (0.69 percent) and Netscape (0.12 percent). Firefox's share fell 1.44 percent since July.

Experts have said security concerns could at least partially contribute to some users abandoning IE for alternative browsers.

Much publicized zero-day browser flaws have been plaguing Microsoft all year, even though Mozilla also has dealt with an increasing number of bugs.

Window Snyder, Mozilla's recently named security chief, told this week that because of its open-source nature, Mozilla is responsible for reporting all security defects. "On the Mozilla side, you see everything because we're totally transparent," she said.

Still, Mozilla is not ashamed when members of its vast community discover new bugs, Snyder said. And when they do, the company is quick to patch.

"People don't realize that when people find vulnerabilities, it's helping you (the user) because when we see them, we fix them," she said.

Both IE7 and Firefox 2.0 include several new security features, namely anti-phishing components that alert users when they come across a potentially phony site.

IE7 also contains a security status bar, an ActiveX Opt-in - which disables all pre-installed ActiveX controls - and cross-domain barriers, which restrict web pages from communicating with content from other domains or windows.

Firefox 2.0 offers a similar "sandboxing" component that prevents untrusted code from the internet from interacting outside the context of the webpage, Snyder said. In addition, the browser uses more "managed code," which limits the number of vulnerabilities that could appear.

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