The release of Microsoft Corp's Internet Explorer 6.0 web browser signaled a "precipitous" decline in the usage of AOL Time Warner Inc's Netscape, according to the latest numbers out from WebSideStory Inc.
The tally, extrapolated from the web logs of the 125,000 sites WebSideStory surveys, has Netscape usage at an all-time low of just 7%, down from a fairly steady 12% prior to IE 6.0's launch, with IE making up the bulk of the remaining usage. IE 6.0, released last year, is used by 30% of web surfers, the survey found.
No matter how much some web developers may hate Microsoft's domination of the internet software market from an ethical viewpoint, the death of Netscape would mean writing for one browser therefore fewer headaches. The browsers implement different standards or the same standards in different ways, and both have non-standard proprietary features.
But AOL, which bought Netscape Communications Corp in 1999, may be poised to spark a revival, by distributing a version of its proprietary IE-based software based on the Gecko rendering engine. Gecko comes from the post-Netscape Mozilla open source browser project, which has been overseen by AOL for the last few years.
AOL recently confirmed it is testing Gecko-based software with some users on its flagship service, continuing from a trial on its CompuServ brand service that started last fall. Rumors are beginning to circulate, which AOL has not yet flat out denied, that AOL 8.0, expected before the end of the year, may be a Gecko-based browser.
According to WebSideStory AOL's global usage share is about 13%. As the largest ISP in the world, with about 34 million users, web developers, particularly those coding for a US consumer-based site, would be hard pressed to ignore a shift in browser strategy from AOL.
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