Microsoft witness claims Netscape browser share hardly fell at all

Which means that a lot of earlier published Microsoft market share data must be rubbish...

Microsoft witness Richard Schmalensee yesterday made the interesting claim that despite Microsoft's best efforts, Netscape's share of the browser market only lost five percentage points from the beginning of 1996 through to the third quarter of 1998. Practically any survey you'd care to name puts Netscape in a downward spiral from a dominant position down to 40-50 per cent by last summer, but according to Schmalensee, they're wrong. And as a matter of fact, Microsoft must be wrong too. Check out Microsoft's view of the browser market in 1997 (DoJ exhibit 8) and you'll see the company figured it had knocked Netscape down from 60 per cent to 55 per cent in the last six months of the year. Microsoft also stated its actual browser market share at 40 per cent for 1997, and 48 per cent (projected) for 1998 (exhibit 14). The virtual standstill Schmalensee claims would, one might observe, have surely caused severe ructions in Microsoft's high command -- you give the browser away free for nearly three years and you only dent Netscape by five per cent? There's gonna be a hanging... And then there's the small matter of Netscape's browser licensing revenues going through the floor from Q2 1996 onwards (exhibit 10) -- how come this money was going away, if free Microsoft browsers weren't having significant effect? Schmalensee's pitch is somewhat radical, to say the least. He says most independent surveys undercounted AOL subscribers in 1996 and early 1997, as AOL cached the most popular Web sites, so survey systems didn't track the hits. He uses data gleaned from surveys made by Market Decisions Corp and paid for by Microsoft. This says that Netscape's share was near 50 per cent in early 1996, rose to 57 per cent, and then fell back to 45 per cent. But curiously, although Microsoft does publish results from these Market Decisions surveys (as part of a response to earlier DoJ data), a Microsoft press release of January 1997 (source, er, Market Decisions and Zona) claims IE as "the fastest growing Web browser across the board". Market Decisions claimed IE use had grown 260 per cent since March 1996, while Zona found a rise in use from eight per cent to 28 per cent from August-December 1996, while Netscape lost 13 per cent in the same period, down to 70 per cent. Numbers, schmumbers... ® Complete Register trial coverage

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