Netscape, a few years ago the undisputed leader in browsers, continues to lose momentum to Microsoft.

Today only one out of four people accessing the Net use Netscape's Navigator, while in March it was one out of three, according to Geoff Johnston, director of marketing and communications at WebSideStory a company that tracks Internet traffic.

WebSideStory gathers data in real-time from 114,000 Web sites worldwide using the company's HitBox Web-traffic analysis software. The results, published at www.StatMarket.com, shows, that 75.3 per cent of the hits registered on August 2 were powered by Explorer, and only 24.7 per cent by Netscape Navigator.

According to Johnston around 31 million individual visitors left their footprint at the measured sites. Microsoft's Explorer 4.x versions were the most frequently used (44.7 per cent), followed by the 5.x versions (24.9 per cent). Netscape Navigator 4.x was positioned third (22 per cent), followed by Explorer 3.x (3.6 per cent), Navigator 3.x (2.3 per cent) and WebTV (1.4 per cent).

The tracking software is primary used by smaller sites and not by Internet giants including Yahoo and Amazon.com. According to Johnston this doesn't affect the accuracy of the statistics, since much of the traffic on the smaller sites is coming from the larger sites.

The data also shows that the use of Netscape drops every weekend. "One could speculate that it was because Explorer is pre-installed on most home PC's," Johnston said. "However, we only report the data. We are not analysts."

Zona Research both reports data and analyzes it. The market research firm will be publishing new figures on browser usage this week. The latest figures, published May 18, were based on answers from 308 enterprises and gave Microsoft a market share of 59 per cent and Netscape a market share of 41 per cent.

Clay Ryder, vice president and chief analyst at Zona, did not want to comment on the figures from WebSideStory, saying he lacks knowledge about the methodology. However, he did say that a 75 per cent market share is not that impressive given that Windows has an even larger market share of desktop users, estimated at greater than 90 per cent.

On whether there is a threshold for when it will be unrealistic for Netscape to continue the browser development , Ryder said: "There may be strategic reasons for continuing even when the market share is small. Just as in the Unix-space."

When America Online bought Netscape, in November 1998, AOL also took control of Netscape's Mozilla browser development. That project oversees an open source development of the next version of the browser, Netscape Communicator 5.0, which the company has said is due out in beta this year.

A Netscape spokeswoman who was provided the report statistics did not call back with comment.