Microsoft shoots to shorten Internet Explorer’s long tail

Microsoft today spelled out priorities for its Internet Explorer (IE) browser, and at the top of the list is “get users current.” But while the company has made some strides in getting that job done, it’s also left a greater proportion of its users behind than any other browser maker.

“Everyone wins when more IE users are running the latest version of the browser,” said Sam George, an IE program manager, in a Wednesday blog aimed at Web developers. “We will continue to build features — like Enterprise Mode IE — and partner with teams internal and external to Microsoft to enable users and businesses to confidently move to the latest version of IE.”

Laudable. But how has Microsoft done?

According to data from Web analytics company Net Applications, Internet Explorer 11 (IE11), the newest version — launched in October 2013 for Windows 8, then released in November to Windows 7 users — accounted for 29% of all copies of IE used to go online in April.

Spelled out another way, 71% of IE users ran a version other than the newest on their PCs.

Other browser makers — Apple, Google and Mozilla — have larger portions of their desktop user base on the latest versions, and corresponding smaller shares running older editions.

Last month, Apple had about 49% of all Safari users on the newest version, Safari 7. Google boasted 48% on its latest, Chrome 34. Mozilla took top honors with 72% on Firefox 28. (Some of the difference between Chrome and Firefox, both of which use automatic updates to keep customers current, can be attributed to timing: Chrome updated to version 34 on April 8, so for a week last month Chrome 33 was the newest; Mozilla pushed users to Firefox 28 on March 18, and didn’t update to Firefox 29 until April 29, giving the former the entire month, less two days, to accumulate share in Net Applications’ tracking.)

Microsoft, like its rivals, also insists on automatic upgrades to the latest IE. So why does it trail the competition in the keep-current sweepstakes?

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