Microsoft’s Windows-only browser, Internet Explorer 6, has gained market share at the expense of Netscape, Internet research firm WebSideStory claims.

The browser’s market share has grown from 2.4 per cent after its launch last year to 30.5 per cent as of March 25. Netscape, which had been holding steady with 12 per cent of the market for over a year, dropped to slightly over 7 per cent after the release of IE6.

While IE6 stands strong at number two in terms of global market share, trailing only IE5, Netscape isn’t dead in the water yet, according to WebSideStory.

AOL Time Warner, which owns the Netscape browser, recently revealed plans to abandon Internet Explorer in its AOL service in favour of a browser powered by the Gecko engine. Netscape uses Gecko to display Web pages.

Netscape could bounce back AOL is a powerful force online, with 34 million registered users. WebSideStory predicts that Netscape could make a comeback if AOL does abandon IE.

Netscape 6.2 also appears to be a stronger release than earlier versions, which might bolster the browser’s popularity, Geoff Johnston, vice president of product marketing for WebSideStory’s StatMarket service, said.

The research company said that it rates global browser usage share as the percentage of daily Internet users that access the Net using a particular browser. Statistics were gathered by the company’s StatMarket Web site design and Web software developer service, which publishes information gathered from more than 50 million daily Internet users visiting 125,000 sites worldwide, the company said.

The San Diego, California-based researcher did not disclose whether the study was conducted independently or paid for by a company.