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Top web browsers 2019: Chrome seesaws yet again



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Chrome last month continued its seesaw in user share, throwing away most of the gains it had made the month prior while remaining fully in charge of the browser market.

According to data published today by California analytics vendor Net Applications, Chrome's share for October dropped by 1.1 percentage points to 67.4%. It was the fourth straight time that Chrome shed some of its share the month following an increase of one point or more. In September, Chrome had recorded a boost of 1.3 points.

The up-down has not always resulted in a net gain for each months' pairings, and when increases have outweighed losses of the month previous, the upside has been small. That's why over the course of the past 12 months, Chrome has climbed by just one percentage point.

 

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Yet the difference between Chrome, the browser leader, and the next in line - Microsoft's Double-mint twins of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge - was 54.9 points, nearer the high end of the 12-month range between 51.7 and 56.5. That metric shows that Chrome's position is solid. Very solid, in fact.

Computerworld now forecasts that Chrome will return to 68% shortly (within three months at the most) and crack 70% by June. Even if its seesaw keeps at it.

Firefox slips

One of the unanswered questions in Browser Land is whether Mozilla's Firefox can survive. Can the browser, which kicked off renewed competition in the space - when it launched in 2004, Microsoft's IE had eradicated all rivals - keep its head above the proverbial water, say, above the very-minor-browser marker of 5%?

Good question.

Firefox lost one-tenth of a percentage point during October, ending the month at 8.6%. Although that wasn't Firefox's nadir of the past 12 months, it was the third-lowest number during that period and the sixth-lowest overall (or at least since the browser crawled out of the single digits in early 2006).

It's almost painful to watch Firefox struggle to sustain its share, much less grow it. In October, the browser's user share was below the median for the past 12 months (9.1%) and significantly under the median for the 12-month span before that (November 2017-October 2018, 10.2%).

Although Mozilla continues to stress Firefox's privacy chops - the latest upgrade added tools that block social media networks' trackers - that has not resonated enough with potential users to bring large numbers to the browser.

By Net Applications' data, Firefox's near future looks weak, but not necessarily bleak. Using the browser's average movement over the last 12 months, Firefox should remain above 8% for the next year, dipping below that only in November 2020. But if the past six months are a better clue, Firefox is in trouble: That forecast would put the browser under 8% as soon as January, under 7% by June and below 5% as soon as December 2020.

(The difference in the two predictions? The six-month average contains three months of large, more-than-half-a-point losses, which dominated the total. Those three months were diluted in the 12-month average.)

How long will Microsoft maintain IE?

Microsoft's recovery from September's all-time browser low wasn't much of a come-back, but it was better than nothing. In October, the Redmond, Wash. company's browsers snatched back some of the share they lost the month before, adding four-tenths of a percentage point to up its share balance to almost 12.5%.

The firm's total was, as always, composed of two different browsers, IE and Edge. And the increase was neatly split between the pair, each adding about two-tenths of a percentage point to the kitty. IE climbed to 6.4%, while Edge edged up to 6.1%.

Windows 10's share of all operating systems climbed at almost the same rate, so Edge simply kept its share of Windows 10's browsers at the same 11.2% of September. That mark, remember, was the lowest of the year so far, but not a record low. (The latter would be the 10.9% in September 2018.)

Meanwhile, IE's increase translated into a slight boost in its share of all Windows browsers, ending October up two-tenths of a point to 7.3%. That IE's portion of all Windows browsers has fallen by about a fourth - a year-ago, the number was 10.6% - is proof of its fast fade among customers.

Within months, Microsoft will finalize its "full-Chromium" Edge, which will feature an integrated IE mode that replicates that browser for the corporate users who still need it - notably IE's ActiveX controls - to run aged web apps and obsolescing intranet sites. At some point after the new IE's debut, Microsoft will forcibly replace the old Edge on Windows 10 PCs (and likely push it onto the Windows 7 systems being serviced by the for-a-free Extended Support Release (ESR) after that OS's public retirement) with the new.

Computerworld has speculated that Microsoft will eventually purge IE from Windows machines and tell the few customers then still needing the browser to instead rely only on the mode inside Edge. That forecast has been driven by IE's quickly-declining share. A year from now, going by its performance over the past 12 months, IE will be run by less than 3.5% of all Windows users, just not enough to warrant a separate application.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, Apple's Safari gained half a percentage point for the second consecutive month, climbing to 4.8%, and Opera Software's browser stayed dropped a tad to 1.3%. Safari's increase came in the face of a dip in macOS, which lost about six-tenths of a percentage point in October. That drop in macOS - expected as it was because September's nearly-two percentage point leap was clearly not realistic - contributed to pushing Safari's share of Apple's operating system to 43.9%, the highest it's been since March 2018.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people use to reach the websites of Net Applications' clients. The firm tallies visitor sessions to measure browser user activity.

Top web browsers, September 2019

Microsoft's browsers stumbled last month, dropping share like a lame Netflix series and falling to a record low after wiping out all of 2019's gains, plus more.

According to data published today by analytics company Net Applications, Microsoft's browser share for September - composed of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge - fell 1.8 percentage points to 12%, an all-time low. To put the decline in perspective, the browsers accounted for a user share of 12.4% at the first of this year and hit a high of 14% in April.

More than two-thirds of that decline was attributed to IE, which plummeted by nearly 1.4 points, falling to 6.1%, a record low for the browser that once lorded if over the web. Edge also slid in September, losing four-tenths of a percentage point and dropping to 5.9%. Edge's slip erased almost all of its gains in August, when the Windows 10-only browser reached a record high.

 

Because of the concurrent rise in Windows 10's share of all operating systems, Edge's raw decline translated into a more substantial drop in its share of Windows 10's browsers. That number fell to 11.2% in September, the lowest level all year.

Although the "full-Chromium" Edge, the version Microsoft's building using technologies from the Google-dominated Chromium project, is under construction, the browser's future is cloudy at best. Clarity won't come until Microsoft finishes the Chromium-based Edge and forces that onto Windows 10 users, something the company has said it will do at some point after launch.

IE fared even worse in a comparison with all the other browsers that run on Windows. By Net Applications' numbers, IE accounted for only 7% of all Windows browsing last month, also a record low. Microsoft kept IE on support only because some organizations require it for aged apps or intranet sites, but that rationale has faded fast: In the last 12 months, IE's share of all Windows declined by 60%. Another year like that and IE will be an afterthought run by fewer than 5% of Windows users.

Firefox scratches, survives another month

Firefox added three-tenths of a percentage point to its user share in September, wrapping up the month at 8.7% and marking the second straight month of keeping things in the black. Even so, it was fourth consecutive month that Firefox remained under 9%, tying a record set in May, June, July and August 2016.

Although it was another month that Firefox scratched out some gains, the browser still stands on shaky ground. Because the last 12 months shows a decline of nearly a percentage point, Computerworld's revised forecast - based on the 12-month average - has Firefox slipping under 8% about mid-2020.

For all of Mozilla's work on Firefox - from the redesign two years ago to its aggressive adoption of anti-tracking and pro-privacy measures - nothing has kicked the browser into sustained growth. A year ago, Firefox's share was 9.6%; when Mozilla introduced Firefox Quantum in November 2017, the share was 11.4%. Only three of the past 18 months recorded shares of 10% or more.

Chrome commandeers more share

Google's Chrome put another 1.3 percentage points on its frame, weighing in for the month at 68.5%, just a tenth of a point off the record high set in July.

Last month, Computerworld noted the odd pattern to Chrome's share, stretches when the browser would add share one month, lose much of it the next. That continued in September - this has been regular as the proverbial clockwork since February - when Chrome went on its growth spurt after shedding 1.4 points in August.

If the tick-tock continues this month, October should be a downer for Chrome.

But as Computerworld has said before, what counts is the long-term movement of a browser. There, Chrome has done well, adding 2.1 percentage points to its share over the last year. Another sign: The 68.5% of September was the second-highest mark for the browser, edged out only by July's 68.6%.

Chrome's gains, stymied as they have been at times by losing months, put a new spin on Computerworld's prediction of its future. Using the 12-month average, the forecast pegs Chrome at more than 69% in November and over 70% by May.

Computerworld has Net Application records going back to January 2005, so it's possible to compare Chrome's prowess today with IE's of yesteryear.

Google comes off second best there - for now, at least - because IE's share was an astounding 89.4% that month. The remainder was split among rivals, including Firefox (at 5.6%), Apple's Safari (1.7%) and Netscape's Navigator (2%). It wasn't until December 2008 that IE's share fell to about where Chrome's is now.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, Apple's Safari grew by half a percentage point to 4.4% and Opera Software's browser stayed where it was at 1.4%. Safari's increase was the second straigh,t but was a due entirely to a nearly-two percentage point leap by macOS that put the operating system in unknown territory (and likely on shaky ground; macOS' 11.6% simply won't stand up).

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people use to reach the websites of Net Applications' clients. The firm tallies visitor sessions to measure browser user activity.