Did Microsoft Buy Netcraft?

by Nicholas Petreley

Okay, I'm not seriously suggesting Microsoft is paying off Netcraft to produce positive survey results (although this is certainly a standard operating procedure for Microsoft). But something is odd, if not rotten, in the state of Netcraft. I have often cited Netcraft web server surveys as evidence that open source beats closed source. The Netcraft surveys almost always showed Apache leading Microsoft IIS by a wide margin, and showed Apache growing as Microsoft IIS market share was shrinking. Lately, however, Netcraft began to claim that Apache market share has been shrinking rapidly while Microsoft IIS has been gaining the market share lost by Apache. Netcraft even proposed that, "Microsoft's recent gains raise the prospect that Windows may soon challenge Apache's leadership position." Microsoft IIS may displace Apache as the most-used web server? Could this really be true, or is this reporting from the Bizarro world? And does anyone else find the wording rather odd? "Windows" may challenge Apache? Huh?

If, as counterintuitive as it may seem and so contrary to "data by word-of-mouth", Microsoft IIS is actually challenging Apache in terms of market share, then so be it. But how does one explain why other web surveys do not detect this remarkable shift?

Here is the Netcraft survey and here is a Security Space survey. While Netcraft says Apache represents 51% market share and rapidly shrinking, Security Space puts Apache at 74% and growing! Netcraft says Microsoft IIS has 34% market share and is rapidly growing, Security Space pegs Microsoft IIS at 20% market share, as it continues to shrink.

Why the vast discrepancy? Does one or the other survey use a misleading polling technique (sites vs. domains vs. servers)? And which survey is misleading? Is Netcraft guilty of voodoo economics (perhaps we should start calling it Witchcraft)? Or is Security Space getting it wrong? I believe common sense favors Security Space, but what do you think?

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