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Less than two thirds of surfers are now using Microsoft's browser on the web as Google's Chrome continues its northward assault.

Internet Explorer slipped below 60 per cent of the market in April - 59.95 per cent, to be precise - according to the latest figures from Net Applications. That was down from 60.65 per cent in March and 67.77 per cent in April 2009.

IE first drifted into sub-70-per-cent territory in January 2009, meaning it has taken 15 months for Microsoft to drop the last 10 per centage points.

Meanwhile, Google's Chrome continued its steady climb in April. It hit 6.73 per cent, compared to 6.13 per cent for March and 1.79 per cent in April 2009. Google first released Chrome in September 2008.

Firefox, once the biggest threat to IE, has hit a plateau: Mozilla's open-source browser reached 24.59 per cent for April, compared with 24.52 per cent for March and 23.84 per cent for a year ago.

Before we go further, let's take a moment: IE hit its high point around 2002 and 2003 with 95 per cent of the market. By November 2007, it was on 79.49 per cent, and Firefox was on 15.54 per cent at that time.

While the story of IE's decline is not new, what is significant is the release of a new operating system - Windows 7 - has not arrested the downward drift. Microsoft has claimed Windows 7 is its fastest ever selling version of Windows, with 100 million licenses.

Yet, despite IE 8's general growth to just under 25 per cent in April, it's not been sufficient to reverse the overall decline of Microsoft's browser.

This would suggest that either Windows isn't puling in the surfers or that the OS sales numbers are not quite what they seem.

Windows 7 has been mainly sold to consumers, with businesses postponing sales and installation. These numbers could suggest the importance of business uptake of IE 8. It's possible consumers are distorting the numbers mix.

Decline and growth might kick in once business users start rolling out Windows 7 in large numbers and updating their browser-based applications to IE 8 from the horribly dated IE 7 and IE 6, which are still out there in large numbers.

As for actual uptake, Microsoft has been careful to say that its record number refers to "licenses" sold. That does not necessarily translate into actual PCs in the market, and it could merely mean these are licenses sold to OEMs and a variety of other makers who've yet to use the software or have it sitting on unsold machines in the channel. ®

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