Firefox and Safari have both gained while Internet Explorer has lost market share in 2005, analysts report.

NetApplications notes that 2005 "marks the return of the browser wars".

Internet Explorer ended 2004 with 90.31 per cent of the browser usage market share, but steadily lost ground throughout 2005, ending the year with 85.05 per cent market share. This has compelled Microsoft to announce a new version of the browser, though not for Macs.

Safari doubles, Firefox grows

Firefox continues to gather surfer's hearts and minds, climbing from 4.64 per cent market share in 2004 to "an impressive 9.57 per cent" share at the close of 2005.

Apple's Safari browser is also experiencing creditable gains. Usage grew each month from 1.56 per cent at the close of 2004 (which put Apple's browser into fourth place behind Netscape) to 3.07 per cent. Safari dethroned the once-mighty Netscape, claiming third place for the Apple-only web browser in 2005.

Vince Vizzaccaro, executive vice president of marketing and strategic relationships at NetApplications said: "While any company would be thrilled to hold Microsoft's 85 per cent market share, IE can not rest lightly. Netscape also once owned a huge percentage prior to IE's debut."

Netscape lost market share, shrinking from 2.07 per cent at the end of 2004 to just 1.24 per cent at the end of 2005.

The Opera browser ended 2005 with 0.55 per cent market share, exactly where it ended in 2004. Opera has a strong presence on handhelds, and as those devices start to become more prominent, Opera is well-placed to exploit it.

Summing up, Vizzaccaro observed: "FireFox is very close to hitting a critical mass of 10 per cent which could mean a more rapid adoption rate. However, IE won't go away quietly as major, and long overdue upgrades are expected to be released in 2006. With Microsoft abandoning the Mac, combined with Apple's continuing market share gains, Safari has even more room to grow. Netscape seems to have been hit hard by Firefox's success, so 2006 will test the company's vigilance to hold on to and increase its user base."