Google's Chrome was the only web browser application to gain global market share last month, with all other major browser platforms showing month-to-month declines, according to Net Applications. Mozilla's Firefox browser -- which had been racking up steady gains at Microsoft's expense through November 2009 -- saw its global market share fall for the third straight month, the web metrics firm reported.

Microsoft's launch beginning this month of a new Windows browser ballot in Europe gives Mozilla a major opportunity to boost its market share. But as a recent Ipsos MORI survey indicates, European consumers still need to become educated about what the browser ballot means for them.

Nearly three-quarters of Internet users in France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Poland and Spain are not aware of the browser-choice screen coming their way, the survey reported. To counteract this lack of awareness, Microsoft's rival has launched a campaign "to encourage people to make smart informed decisions about the technologies that they use," according to Mozilla CEO John Lilly.

IE's Market Slide

For Microsoft, the browser ballot mandated by its antitrust settlement with the European Commission threatens to further exacerbate Internet Explorer's market slide. According to Net Applications, IE has lost 6.19 points of global market share since last April. Data from Dublin-based StatCounter similarly indicates that Microsoft has lost nearly 6.5 points of market share during the period.

Beginning Monday, European browser users will be able to learn more about the alternative browser choices by clicking on the links that appear in the browser ballot's list, which includes Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari. What's more, the ballot even provides European PC users with the ability to turn access to IE on or off.

The choices that European PC users now face are important because the browser platform they choose is responsible for providing the necessary tools for managing their online lives and to protect their privacy and security, noted Lilly and Mozilla Foundation Chairman Mitchell Baker. "Whether or not you decide to keep your current web browser, we encourage you to learn more about your browser and the impacts it has on the way you see the world, and to make your own choice," they said.

Google Chrome Gains

Over the past 10 months, Google's Chrome has been most successful in chipping away at Microsoft's browser lead. As the latest data from Net Applications demonstrates, Chrome has gained nearly four points of market share since April, rising from 1.79 percent to 5.61 percent in February. StatCounter indicated that Chrome's share of the global browser market has risen by 4.5 points since April.

By contrast, Firefox made little headway at Microsoft's expense during the same period. Mozilla's rival browser held a 24.23 percent share of the global market at the end of last month -- up slightly from 23.84 percent in April, Net Applications reported. Even Apple's Safari browser has outperformed Firefox during the same period, rising from 3.53 percent to 4.45 percent.

Going forward, Microsoft's rivals will benefit from the settlement, which gives PC manufacturers the power to install any browser on the machines they sell in Europe without fear of retribution. "OEMs will be free to preinstall any web browser -- or browsers -- of their choice on PCs they ship and to set any browser as the default web browser," the European Commission noted in December.

The one bit of good news for Microsoft is that the browser ballot is something European IT administrators can handle in a bulk fashion, noted Gartner Research Vice President Michael Silver.

"Enterprises will make a decision and include their choice in the corporate image," Silver said. "It's really a nonissue in medium to large enterprises."