Does anyone actually use (or even know about) Microsoft's Edge browser?

If you're a Web developer, deciding which browsers to support can be a big decision. Choose wrong and there are costly ramifications. With IE declining and mobile activity increasing, where does Microsoft's Windows 10-only Edge fit in? We decided to find out.

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Who uses Edge?

Microsoft describes its Edge browser as "The faster, safer browser designed for Windows 10." It is the default browser for Windows 10 users. If you think about it, back when IE debuted, our computing world was vastly different. Edge was designed with the intent to take into account all we do now with our browsers, defend against the threats the incrementally-updated IE has been subjected to, use less battery power, and be much faster.

Even with all those advantages, Edge didn't initially take the world by storm. What I wanted to know is, where does it stand today? That's the purpose of this article.

When Edge first debuted nearly two years ago, it felt unfinished. It didn't support extensions or plugins, for example. My earliest experience found me having to jump back into Chrome merely to look up a password, and then back into Edge. After a few hours of back-and-forth, I realized, at least back then, that Edge wasn't ready for my day-to-day production use.

But time has passed. As I wrote about last week, Edge has some reasonable extension support. While it doesn't offer extensions for everything I do, it does include, among the 31 extensions available, add-ons that work with the tools I use in my daily workflow.

So while Edge will never be my main squeeze simply because it's not cross-platform (and I jump between Mac, Windows, and Linux constantly), it is starting to become more practical, especially for those who live in Windows 10 alone.

Here's a short story. My wife is always in the loop on articles I'm writing. She edits most of them before they are sent out to ZDNet's editorial team. On Thursday, I was working on last week's gallery of great Edge extensions. As is normal, she asked, "What are you working on?"

Me: "A gallery of extensions for the Edge browser."

Her: "What's the Edge browser?"

My wife is an active, daily Windows 10 user. She's a technically astute RN, and even wrote the ZDNet Health column here for a few years before her nursing responsibilities demanded her full attention. She's built PCs, helps others with their computers, and, well, she lives with me. The point is, she's far from a neophyte Windows user. And Edge had made so little an impression on her that she asked that question.

If you're going to test your websites against Safari for Mac compatibility, it's clear that you should also test your site against Edge for Windows 10 users.

In some senses, that's understandable. We use Chrome because, again, it's cross platform. While her main machine is a Windows 10 ultrabook, our family big screen is a Mac. To easily get to her bookmarks and browsing history, Chrome is seamless, where Edge doesn't exist on the Mac.

Edge is also not the main Windows browsers many commercial sites expect. We have a friend who does phone support for the credit arm of one of the Big Three automakers. They're still recommending customers access their Web site with IE. When a customer has a problem using the site, they don't recommend Chrome or Edge. It's still IE all the way.

Internet Explorer (IE), of course, is the browser most associated with Windows and Microsoft. While Microsoft has stopped development on new features, IE is still fully supported. These days, it seems that in Microsoft's eyes, IE's main purpose in life is to serve corporate customers running line-of-business applications that those customers aren't prepared to convert to another browser.

For users, Microsoft is still supporting IE with patches. Only IE 11 works with Windows 10, but that's apparently good enough for the car company, and many of the banks and other vendors who often demand you log in, still, with IE. So when my wife has to drop out of Chrome to access a stubborn financial institution's site, it's with IE -- not Edge.

So who uses Edge? Well, clearly Edge adoption is limited by the fact that its trapped on Windows 10. Earlier Windows users, Mac users, and Linux users won't be able to use it.

In my quest to understand where Edge stands these days, I decided to look at a variety of different metrics and data aggregation sites. I chose two approaches. First, of those using Windows 10, how many use Edge? Then overall, understanding full well that Edge is limited to one version of one OS, where does Edge fit compared to browsers across all desktop platforms?

We'll begin our look into Edge data where all good Windows research begins: previous articles by our own Ed Bott. Back in June 2016, Ed did a whole bunch of number crunching on both Windows 10 and Edge, and concluded that, while Windows 10 usage was rising, Edge usage had actually shown a fall-off among Windows 10 users.

Since Ed used three sources: the US government's Digital Analytics Program (DAP), Net Market Share, and StatCounter GlobalStats, I decided I'd dig into those sources and crunch some numbers as well.

Unfortunately, the data retrievable from analytics.usa.gov only goes back three months. That said, the site's data is derived from 2.65 billion visits to US government sites going back over the last 90 days. Normally, March and April are big visit-government-sites months, because personal income taxes are due in April. This year, we also had a rather boisterous presidential inauguration, so government site visits might have been up in January as well.

Windows 10 usage

The DAP program specifically distinguishes between browsers running on Windows desktops. It does not capture data of this degree of granularity for other platforms, sadly. Even so, we can see that of the roughly 469 million Windows 10 visits recorded, Edge has been used for 21 percent of them.

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Windows 10 browser usage

The month-to-month share change between the browsers is so slight, it's more of a rounding error than anything else. There's no trend analysis value to be read from this information. On the other hand, it is interesting to note where Windows stands compared to the other major platforms used to access government sites.

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Platforms used to access US government sites

In this case, I'm including all Windows versions. You can see, at least when it comes to accessing US government websites, that Windows is holding strong at nearly half of all accesses.

Of course, access to American government websites won't tell the whole story. For that, we'll turn to two other data aggregators.

Net Market Share's global data

I particularly like the data gathered by Net Market Share because the company separates out desktop from mobile market share. Even though I showed you the mobile share for the US government sites, I really mostly want to see how desktop users are responding to Edge.

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Edge usage growth

As the above chart shows, Edge's overall share of the desktop market grew quickly in its first nine months on the market. Since then, growth has slowed down, but still continues slowly.

Overall, though, across all OSs and versions, where does Edge fit? For that, let's look at another chart.

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Net Market Share's view of worldwide desktop browser usage

A close look will show that there are, in fact, three battles being played out over the lines on the chart. The most obvious is the battle between IE and Chrome. Chrome has, indisputably, supplanted IE as the browser most people use on the desktop.

Another battle is at the bottom of the chart, between Safari and Edge. Safari, known primarily as Apple's native browser, did exist for a while on Windows, but was discontinued for that platform about five years ago. So when you're looking at the battle between Safari and Edge, what you're looking at is the battle between the native browsers on MacOS vs. on Windows 10.

The key takeaway from this is clear. There are more Edge users than Safari users. That's important, because if you're going to test your websites against Safari for Mac compatibility, it's clear from this chart that you should also test your site against Edge for Windows 10 users.

Finally, let's discuss the third battle, that of IE vs. Chrome vs. Edge. Edge, it is clear, has not survived the successor battle for IE's throne. The winner there is Chrome.

StatCounter's data is similar, but different

Just in case this stuff hasn't given you enough of a headache, let's look at the third data aggregator Ed cited in his article, StatCounter GlobalStats. Before I show you the chart, let me point out that this is where discernment and common sense come in.

Each aggregator of browser data is going to have a different mechanism for getting that data. As a result, the data itself is likely to be different. My approach to dealing with this (beyond the intake of probably too much chocolate) is to look for the overall message, not the details.

When it comes to overall message, the US government, Net Market Share, and StatCounter all agree on a few facts: Chrome is the winner and Edge is down in the weeds. Here's StatCounter's results for the same data.

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Another view of worldwide desktop browser usage

StatCounter counted IE out well before Net Market Share, but in both cases, IE is clearly on the outs. StatCounter doesn't give nearly as much prominence to Edge as Net Market Share, but both show the browser growing.

Does anyone actually use Edge?

So, does anyone actually use (or know about) Edge? Absolutely. Just on US government sites, there were 98 million visits in the last three months. For anything other than a browser, that would be a stupendous level of penetration.

But we're talking browsers here, which means market share matters. Each of our data aggregators pretty much make the case that at this growth rate, Edge is going to be an edge case for all but those Microsoft-centric Windows 10 diehards.

Even so, as you move forward, you should plan to support Edge. It is, at least if you believe Net Market Share, more popular than Safari on the desktop, has hundreds of millions of users, and since IE is officially deprecated, is Microsoft's recommended browser for its popular and successful Windows 10 desktop OS.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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