Apple has tripled the market share for its Safari browser on Windows through its "risky" distribution strategy, according to new figures from Net Applications.

But Microsoft and Mozilla don't necessarily need to worry just yet - Safari's share was so small to begin with that the jump in installations still leaves it with less than 1 percent of the market, Net Applications said.

When Apple debuted Safari 3.1 last month, the company targeted Windows users via other Apple applications that are popular on the desktop, including iTunes and QuickTime. Those applications use a program called Softare Update Service to install patches and new versions.

Software Update Service isn't ordinarily used to introduce new products onto a Windows desktop, but Apple listed Safari 3.1 with the option to install pre-selected.

"Clearly, this is a calculated risk by Apple that has annoyed and/or alienated some users," said Net Applications in a statement.

The company said that the move appears to be paying off. While Safari 3.0's market share peaked at .07 percent, the newer version has already reached 0.21 percent, Net Applications said.

The trend is likely to continue due to the large number of Apple programs, in particular iTunes, installed on Windows desktops, Net Applications said.

Last month, John Lilly, Mozilla's CEO, took Apple to task for using the update tool, familiar to Windows users as the mechanism for updating iTunes, to push the Safari browser to people who had not previously installed the program. Lilly said the practice "undermines the Internet" and "borders on malware distribution practices."

Lilly's comments, which appeared in a blog post, raised a furore, with Apple defenders calling his criticisms, among other things, a "mountain out of a molehill" and a "load of crap."

Apple later changed its software update tool for Windows users so that it separates updates for already-installed programs from offers to install new software.

Asa Dotzler, Mozilla's director of community development, said the move was "an important, though not sufficient, improvement" and called on Apple to go a step further. "Now Apple needs [to] stop checking the box for 'New Software' items by default," he said in a post to his blog.

Computerworld's Gregg Keizer contributed to this report.