NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- For more than a decade, Microsoft's Internet Explorer has been the predominant tool the world uses to connect to the Web, but that's no longer true, according to a Web analytics firm.
StatCounter, which tracks Internet data, said that IE's share of the browser market fell to 49.9% in September. More people still use IE than any other single browser, but the combined market share of non-Microsoft browsers now outpaces IE.
Microsoft (MSFT, Fortune 500) once commanded more than 90% of the browser market, rising to dominance by preloading IE on Windows computers. That sent Netscape, the browser king of the 1990s, tumbling into irrelevancy. It also prompted antitrust suits against Microsoft in both the United States and the European Union, the latter of which forced the company to offer Windows users a list of browsers to choose from when they set up the operating system.
That, along with the fact that other browsers have outpaced IE's innovations, has led Mozilla's Firefox, Google's (GOOG, Fortune 500) Chrome and Apple's (AAPL, Fortune 500) Safari browser to eat away at Microsoft's market share. Internet Explorer's use has been falling steadily over the past several years.
"This is certainly a milestone in the Internet browser wars," said Aodhan Cullen, StatCounter's CEO. "Just two years ago IE dominated the worldwide market with 67%."
Still, online data tracking is a tricky science, with various methods returning different results. Some trackers record browser information based on clicks to a network of client Web sites, which is the main method StatCounter uses. Others use toolbars, ISP data or even surveys to collect the information.
Though the trend is clear across the board, other data trackers show that Internet Explorer is still firmly on top of the browser world. For instance, Net Applications -- which is frequently cited by the browser makers themselves -- shows that IE's market share sits much more comfortably at 59.7%.
Microsoft did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Recognizing that its market share was falling fast, Microsoft recently made the decision to embrace many of the changes and innovations that its rivals produced. Internet Explorer 9, which is currently in public test mode, adds support for an emerging Web standard called HTML5, along with a handful of other advances that will help it keep pace with its fast-improving rivals.
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