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At the same time that Microsoft was launching the beta for the latest version of its widely used browser last month, Internet Explorer's (IE) continued its slow but steady decline -- sliding to its lowest point ever, according to one Web analytics firm.
The research arm of StatCounterreported Tuesday that, by its criteria, IE use dropped to 49.9 percent in September on a worldwide basis, the first time that Microsoft's (NASDAQ: MSFT) browser has fallen below 50 percent on StatCounter's index.
"This is certainly a milestone in the Internet browser wars," Aodhan Cullen, CEO of StatCounter, said in a statement. "Just two years ago IE dominated the worldwide market with 67 percent."
IE remains the leading browser in the market place, however. At least for now.
Coming in second place by StatCounter's measure was Firefox with a 31.5 percent share of the market, followed by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) Chrome at 11.5 percent. For Chrome, that mark is up from just a 3.7 percent share of the browser market a year ago.
On a more regional basis, IE is doing even worse in Europe, seven months after it began selling versions of Windows mandated by the European Commissionthat let users pick which browser they want to use the first time they start up the system.
In contrast with global figures, StatCounter said that use of IE in Europe fell to 40.3 percent, down from 46.4 percent in September 2009. Meanwhile, in the U.S., IE usage hasn't fallen past the psychological barrier of 50 percent -- yet.
According to StatCounter's report, IE usage check in at 52.3 percent in North America, followed by Firefox with 27.2 percent and Chrome with 9.9 percent.
In mid-September, Microsoft held a launch event for the first beta test of IE9, which promises higher performance, improved graphics support, and closer compliance with Internet standards.
On Oct. 1, Microsoft announced that in just the first two weeks of the beta, 6 million copies were downloaded.
Microsoft has not yet said when it plans to release the final version of IE9.