by Mark Jodoin

Janco, the clunky but interesting IT survey site, released its market share analysis of the browser wars earlier this week.

Their key finding is that over the last year Firefox’s share increased by almost 8% to 12.61%. Over the same period (January 2005 to January 2006) Microsoft slipped by almost 4% to 82.83%. Netscape’s increase was negligible and Opera wasn’t measured this time out. Mozilla was down 3.48% largely as a result of the Mozilla Foundation cannibalizing itself with its ‘sister’ browser Firefox.

If half of Firefox’s increase came at the expense of Mozilla, the remaining half came must have come from Microsoft. But now that Firefox has reached double digit market share, should Steve Ballmer be concerned? You bet.

Flashback to the mid-nineties when Explorer incrementally crept up on Netscape and eventually overtook it and almost killed it (Netscape now sits at a humbling 2.33% of the market). So there is ample precedent for a stalking horse browser to eventually – or at least temporarily – win the online sweepstakes.

We’ve known from the beginning that Firefox users have different browsing habits. For example, CNET reported a year ago that Explorer users are four times more likely to click on a web ad than Firefox users.

And from the time of its initial launch, Firefox has also been the favourite son of those in the blogging community who care about social media, such as the respected seers at Oreilly. One of the favoured Firefox features is its elegant RSS ‘live bookmarks’ which permit browsers to see the item titles of RSS web feeds. From every angle, we at market2world see RSS as social media ammunition – the ammunition that just keeps refreshing itself, and refreshing itself, and refreshing itself…

It shouldn’t be surprising that Microsoft competitors, such as IBM (my good friend Nathan Rudyk tells me that’s who Bill Gates identifies as his biggest competitor) now support Firefox internally.

CNET recently reported that the Mozilla Foundation expects to have a version of Firefox for Apple’s new Intel-based machines in March. They’re reportedly doing so because of they anticipate considerable increases in demand for their browser from the Apple community whose rate of growth currently exceeds that of Microsoft and is expected to continue doing so thanks to its Intel chipset.

Funnily enough, when Steve Ballmer made his speech at an OCRI event in November, he didn’t mention the browser wars as a key battleground. If you missed his speech, you can download it as a podcast from our site.

During his Q & A session he mentioned five‘war zones’, three or four of which could be considered as social media (he specifically mentioned search portals, email, instant messaging, blogging and gaming).

Firefox is considered by many as the browser of choice by Web 2.0 social media proponents. Ironically, many of its features pre-dated it in the form of that fast and handy Web 2.0 browser Opera, which unaccountably languishes with approximately 2% of the market.

So watch for Explorer to do to Firefox what it did to Opera. Explorer no doubt will soon feature RSS and tabbed browsing and other favourite Firefox features.

That will be the best indicator that Mr. Ballmer really does see the browser wars as integral front of the Web 2.0 social media war zone.

(Mark Jodoin is the VP Client Services of market2world communications inc.)