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Much has been made over the past week about Firefox 4 trouncing Internet Explorer 9 in total downloads since the new browsers were released. But Microsoft’s Internet Explorer team is cautioning that it’s too early to make comparisons.

In a post on the Windows blog, Microsoft’s Ryan Gavin points out that the company hasn’t started distributing the new browser through its Automatic Update mechanism, in contrast with Firefox, which prompted users to upgrade when they rebooted their browsers. Gavin explains …

So, every IE9 download is from a customer actively seeking out Internet Explorer 9 and downloading it. No automatic update or in-product prompts. As a matter of fact, of the downloads we’ve seen through Sunday, March 27th, over 90% have come from non-IE9 RC and Beta users. And remember, we report completed downloads – not attempted downloads where a user may hit a download button repeatedly but without fully downloading IE9.

He concludes, “Windows Update for all our Windows customers will start sometime next month and by the end of June we will have a great sense of the enthusiasm on Windows 7 for IE9. Until that time, don’t get too wrapped up in the browser number gymnastics currently going on.”

But even in the long run, Microsoft may struggle to keep up, given that its new browser only works on Windows Vista and Windows 7, not older versions of the operating system, let alone other operating systems. Firefox, in contrast, has decided to support older versions of Microsoft’s OS, in addition to competing platforms.

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