Research firm says open-source software extended lead over Microsoft's IIS in February
A social networking site that caters to an older crowd is helping the open-source Apache Web server widen its market share lead over Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Information Services software, according to market research firm Netcraft Ltd.

Bath, England-based Netcraft said Apache was being used to run 80.2 million Web sites worldwide as of the end of February, giving it a 50.9% market share vs. 35.6% for IIS, which is a bundled component of Windows Server. The next most popular Web server is Google Inc.'s, with 5.2% of the market, Netcraft said.

Apache is a longtime favorite of Web developers that has ruled the Web server roost since 1996, by Netcraft's counting. Its dominance peaked in November 2005, when Apache held 71% of the market — 3.5 times the 20.2% share that IIS had. That caused commentators such as Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison to declare that IIS had been "wiped off the face of the earth" by Apache.

But Apache's market share steadily eroded over the past two years, largely due to the growing popularity of Microsoft's Windows Live Spaces blogging platform and Google's rival Blogger technology, according to Netcraft.

In the eyes of some open-source advocates, the market share gains by IIS during that period also resulted from some illegitimate tactics on the part of Microsoft — for instance, allegedly paying large domain name resellers to "park unused domain names in IIS instead of Apache.

Netcraft had gone so far as to predict that IIS, propelled by interest in new features included in Windows Server 2008, could overtake Apache sometime this year.

In January, Microsoft also eased its licensing restrictions on IIS 7.0, the version of the Web server software that comes with Windows Server 2008, in an effort to help IIS better compete with Apache.

Even soft-spoken Windows Server general manager Bill Laing, when asked last month if he thought IIS would overtake Apache this year, said, "I think we have a shot in the next 12 months."

"We've always done pretty well on intranets," Laing said. "But a lot of the new features in IIS 7 are aimed at Web hosting and outward-facing sites. I think we're on a nice trajectory. So if we keep that going, and nothing unusual happens . . ."

But Apache appears to have regained its mojo during the last four months. Its share of the market is up more than 3% since October, when it ended the month at 47.7% — the first time in a decade that the open-source software had fallen below a 50% share. Meanwhile, IIS has commensurately slipped back from its October peak of 37.1%, Netcraft said.

What has happened, Netcraft said in its Web server market share report for January, is the growth of blogging platforms other than Windows Live Spaces and Blogger, including a rapid, under-the-radar rise in the popularity of a social networking site called Multiply.

Boca Raton, Fla.-based Multiply Inc. says its site is aimed at users who feel uncomfortable using MySpace or Facebook, with their younger demographics and lack of privacy features. According to information on the site, Multiply lets its users finely control who can see their pictures, postings and comments. It claims to have had 8 million registered users as of January, double the amount nine months earlier.