Although Internet Explorer (IE) continued to bleed market share last month, Apple's Safari was an even bigger loser during February, an Internet metrics company has said.

Microsoft's browser lost 0.04 of a percentage point of its market share to end February with 67.5 percent, another record low for IE since Net Applications began tracking browser data in 2005. Last month's decline, however, was the smallest since July 2008, when IE actually gained share, and significantly less than its 12-month average of 0.7 percent. Even so, in the last 12 months, IE has slipped 7.4 percentage points.

Within Microsoft's total, the share of users running Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) increased slightly last month from January, climbing to 1.17 percent from 0.92 percent. The release candidate of IE8, dubbed RC1, has been available for about five weeks , making February the first full month of its public availability.

But for all of IE's problems, Safari slid more last month.

Apple's browser, which had been on a three-month winning streak during which it gained 1.5 percentage points, slipped by 0.3 of a percentage point compared to the month before, said Vince Vizzaccaro, Net Applications' executive vice president of marketing. "That was surprising. We've been seeing Safari gain share lately."

But he offered caveats about drawing conclusions from Net Applications' data. "Safari could have grown significantly, but it grew less significantly than, say, IE," said Vizzaccaro. Net Applications measures browser usage by tracking the machines that visit the 40,000-some sites it monitors for clients.

He also offered a possible explanation for Safari's drop, the browser's largest one-month fall since June 2007. "It might be due to the month," he said. "In December [2008] and January [2009] there was a lot more browsing from home because of holidays and vacation time those months. So one way to look at Safari's numbers is that [overall usage] may not have gone down, but they look down compared to January and December, when more people were at home."

With both IE and Safari down, Mozilla's Firefox had no trouble winning the share race last month. The open-source browser gained ground for the fifth month in a row to finish at a record share of 21.7 percent. According to Net Applications' data, Firefox users also continued to leave Version 2.0 for the newer Version 3.0: 88 percent of those using Firefox are running the latter, an increase from the 85 percent who were running the newest edition last month.

Mozilla dropped support for Firefox 2.0 last December, and made its third and final upgrade offer to users running that edition in early January. Since then, Google Inc. has shut off the antiphishing service that provided updates to Firefox 2.0.

Other browsers also posted increases last month: Google's Chrome boosted its share to 1.15 percent, while Opera Software's flagship browser climbed slightly to 0.71 percent.