Internet Explorer 8: How not to launch a new browser

Microsoft is the company that invented the concept of launching a beta product in order to build up traction for the final product. And still, the introduction of Internet Explorer 8 shapes up to be a complete train wreck as far as customer adoption is concerned. [via tgdaily]

Sure, journalists are no marketing whizzes, at least not typically. And I don’t claim that I am smarter than Microsoft’s marketing and PR strategists. But I have spent my fair share in software marketing in my career and I can say with certainty that I would have been in trouble if I had messed up a product launch as much as Microsoft messed up the launch of its new web browser.

Last week, I spent some time on the relatively slow launch pace of IE8, which topped out at a market share of 1.86% by Friday afternoon, according to data provided by Net Applications. For a company with the reach of Microsoft, this was a bit of a disappointment. But browsers like Internet Explorer 7, Firefox or Safari hit their market share highs on weekends, while Internet Explorer 6, still a browser that has a fairly high market share during the week, declines.

If we believe the market share numbers provided by Net Applications, IE8 climbed above the 2% mark when U.S. users went into their weekend – or around 5 pm EDT last Friday. Over the past two days, the market share climbed as high as 2.59% (Sunday, 3 am EDT), before dropping into the 2.3% neighborhood later that day. It is too early to say which browser had to give up market share to enable IE8’s gain, but as far as we can see from Net Application’s data, it does not appear that IE7’s and Firefox 3’s market share numbers have suffered. It will take some time until we can see whether IE7 users are upgrading or Firefox users are returning to IE.

But the heart of the matter is that, in a best case scenario, IE8 has gained less than 1% of market share over the weekend and may have seen somewhere between 5 and 7 million downloads between Friday evening and Sunday night. Since launch day, the market share has increased by less than 1.3% - if Net Applications’ numbers are correct.

Let’s look at what Mozilla accomplished with Firefox. Firefox 3 gained 2.76 percentage points over its first four days of availability – and we are talking about a browser that had less than 20% overall market share at the time of its release. Microsoft’s IE is still well above the 65% mark. You do the math on the performance discrepancy – and it is now even more impressive how Mozilla handled the launch of Firefox 3.

I have no idea what happened at Microsoft, but I can just imagine the questions that are already asked by some executives. It is mind boggling to compare ingenious campaigns such as the launch of IE4 and the quiet launch of IE8. Just like IE4 was designed to surpass Netscape’s Navigator/Communicator browser back then, IE8 is a critical product that Microsoft needs as supporting software for its cloud computing strategy. I personally would have missed the launch, had I not been told about it by TG Daily in-house browser expert Christian Zibreg.

Given the circumstances, especially IE declining market share, I just don’t believe Microsoft can afford such half-baked product launches.

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