Implausibly, IE survives… and perhaps thrives

Implausibly, IE survives… and perhaps thrives

Summary: It looked as though Google's Chrome browser was going to breeze past Firefox and perhaps equal or overtake Microsoft's Internet Explorer. But so far, neither event has happened, as NetMarketShare's new numbers show.

TOPICS: Browser

It's a good job I don't gamble. In December 2011, I might have bet that Google's Chrome browser would comfortably overtake Mozilla's Firefox. In fact, I thought it might even overtake Microsoft's Internet Explorer this year.

Chrome was trendy. It was relatively light, fast and very stable, while Firefox had grown somewhat old and bloated. (Perhaps my copy was running too many badly written extensions.) Chrome's market share increased rapidly from 11.41 percent in February 2011 to 19.11 percent in December, on NetMarketShare's numbers, while Firefox slipped a fraction from 22.69 percent to 21.83 percent.

As for Internet Explorer, its market share had plunged from 59.22 percent in February 2011 to 51.87 percent in December. The gap between Chrome and IE had closed by 15 percentage points in only 10 months! It only had 30-odd points to go!

IE was in trouble. It was carrying the combined weight of Silicon Valley and open source hatred, and even if some of those are idiots, mud tends to stick. Further, the "browser choice" screens introduced in March 2010 at the behest of the European Union's Department for Bashing Microsoft could persuade some users to try other browsers. (Later, we learned that Microsoft had sometimes -- whoops! -- accidentally left browser ballots out.)

Even worse, Microsoft seemed to have shot itself in the foot by refusing to provide a "modern" browser to run on its horribly insecure, hopelessly outdated and yet still hugely popular Windows XP. Of course, users could upgrade from IE6 (which was a very modern browser in 2001) to IE8, but that was still unable to handle full HTML5 or run JavaScript-bloated websites at speed. (Not surprisingly, Google's stuff runs best in Google's browser.)

With Google running persistent adverts for Chrome on its high-traffic search page, as well as expensive TV adverts, XP users would surely switch in droves….

But the January 2013 numbers (graph below), which NetMarketShare published on February 1, show that I would have lost both bets.

NetMarketShare's graph of browser market shares
NetMarketShare's graph of browser market shares. Image credit: ZDNet screen grab

Chrome had climbed impressively to Firefox's level at around 20 percent market share, but then more or less stopped growing. Worse, it had suffered a slight decline to 17.48 percent in January 2013, behind Firefox's 19.94 percent. (I certainly don't think NetMarketShare's numbers are accurate to two decimal places, but the long-term trends are probably close enough.)

Also, while IE had declined steadily from 66 percent in 2009 to 51.87 percent in December 2011, it did not continue on the path to around 40 percent or so today. Its market share stopped falling, and it has even gained a few percentage points. It's at 55.14 percent today.

IE and Firefox have certainly improved, and perhaps Chrome is less impressive than it used to be. In my experience -- where it's usually overloaded with 35 to 50 tabs -- Chrome's built-in Flash crashes often, and the whole thing falls over perhaps once a day. I'll live with that because I have more faith in Chrome's security than in any other browser, but I can understand people with different priorities switching away.

Whatever the reason, predictions that any of us could have made based on "obvious trends" have, so far, failed to materialise. Chrome has not humbled Firefox; it has not overtaken IE.

As physicist Niels Bohr observed: "Prediction is very difficult, especially if it's about the future." I think I'll stay on safer ground: predicting the past.

Footnote: As Larry Deneberg has pointed out, that Bohr quote has also been credited to Confucius, Yogi Berra, Will Rogers, Mark Twain, Groucho Marx, Woody Allen, Victor Borge, Albert Einstein, Enrico Fermi, Vint Cerf, Freeman Dyson, George Bernard Shaw, Sam Goldwyn, Cecil B DeMille, Winston Churchill, Dan Quayle and many others, possibly because they are easier to spell than Niels Bohr. Or possibly because most people don’t know nuffink about nuffink, they just make stuff up. I just wish more of them would admit it. You can quote me on that.


Topic: Browser

Jack Schofield

About Jack Schofield

Jack Schofield spent the 1970s editing photography magazines before becoming editor of an early UK computer magazine, Practical Computing. In 1983, he started writing a weekly computer column for the Guardian, and joined the staff to launch the newspaper's weekly computer supplement in 1985. This section launched the Guardian’s first website and, in 2001, its first real blog. When the printed section was dropped after 25 years and a couple of reincarnations, he felt it was a time for a change....

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  • Business uses IE, obviously that was never going to happen :-|

    Pretty ill-informed statement really.

    Firefox is managing to hold it's own against Chrome. It's my browser of choice and is still very popular.
    • Windows 8 and Internet Explorer (10)

      With the release of Windows 8 I think IE's market share has gone up. In fact look at the October 2012 -January 2013 trend. It is growing. So that means we need to re-evaluate this whole "Windows 8 is a failure" ideology.
      • No need

        Windows 8 is a fail, move on and get another hobby...
        • Why

          Bought both my daughters non-touch Windows 8 PCs (Lenovo's that were great and inexpensive), running W8 on my work laptop and have a test Windows 8 Dell XPS touch screen W8 PC. My daughters love their PCs (with Classic Shell start button replacement) and I am really impressed with Windows 8 with a touch.

          If someone gets a PCs w/o touch then I would suggest a start button replacement like Classic Shell because Metro adds nothing to a non-touch PC. But W8 is very fast, secure, and clean running OS. Not worth an upgrade if you are running W7 but runs well on XP aged machines. On a touch screen, learn the gestures and within a week you will love the interface update.
          Rann Xeroxx
          • Happy New Year!

            Love my job, since I've been bringing in $5600… I sit at home, music playing while I work in front of my new iMac that I got now that I'm making it online.
      • Nope

        The monthly gulf between Windows Vista's uptake and Windows 8's uptake is only widening, in other words. People still consider Windows Vista to be a stinker, rightly or wrongly, and that reputation no doubt helped to fuel Windows 7's lightning-fast adoption. Conversely, Windows 7's all-around excellence is likely holding back Windows 8—there simply isn't a compelling reason to leap to Windows 8 and its redesigned modern UI if you're a happy Windows 7 user.

        Don't be hasty to blame Windows 8's slow uptake on declining PC sales, either. While the computer industry did suffer a contraction in 2012, digging through data from Gartner—a research analytics firm—reveals that just over 90 million PCs were sold in fourth quarters of both 2009 and 2012 (the launch windows for Windows 7 and 8, respectively). In fact, about 300,000 more PCs sold in the fourth quarter of 2012 than in 2009. The appearance of Windows 7 gave PC sales a tremendous shot in the arm, however, while Windows 8's launch has not.
        • Plus theres the hardware issue this time around.

          With W7 there was huge pent up demand from both those who had moved to Vista and those who had skipped it. With W8 there's no such thing as most are very happy with W7. But more than that W8 emphasizes touch and has a lot of people waiting to upgrade until they get touch hardware along with it. This didnt happen in Q4 as most retailers were using the Q4 holiday season to clearence out all their non touch hardware in anticipation of it losing relevence in 2013. That meant all the great priced deals were on non touch W7 machines. Also the ultrabook market has been hampered by intels snails pace with haswell/broadwell.
          Johnny Vegas
          • It's frustrating touchscreen laptops cost so much!

            I bought fantastic Sony Vaio S Series laptop in November last year (Macbook Pro eat your heart out), no touchscreen option. Grr!

            And the Sony Vaio that did cost loads more.

            Windows 8 needs touch to be usable at it's best but it's being reserved for the premium end. Not even the mid-range sector.
      • Ideology?

        I always figured the term could only be applied to comprehensive philosophical systems like Marxism or Randianism; "Windows 8 is a failure" is a rather skimpy explanation for "life, the universe, and everything".

        Of course, the problem with all ideologies is that they presuppose that all relevant data are already known.
        John L. Ries
      • Hating Win 8 and IE is Trendier Than Apple

        I think it's important that you compared hating IE and Win 8 to an "ideology."

        It IS almost ideological in nature. While MS isn't exactly a bastion of open-source, I think many of the torches and pitchforks crowd claim to be "pro open-source" when in fact, they just like the free stuff open-source gives them, and could care less about the good ethics.

        IE 10, love MS or hate them, seems to be a damn fine browser thus far.
      • IE9 and IE10 are solid browsers

        IE7 and IE8 both stank. I'd always install/recommend people install Firefox or Chrome but you know what IE9 and IE10 are perfectly good browsers.

        My girlfriend's recently got a Windows 8 laptop (perfectly usable without touchscreen, including start screen, not that she spends much time using it) and I merely said Chrome/Firefox are better, if you're happy with IE stick with it.

        She has. Normally I'd have installed Chrome or Firefox by now.
    • Actually,

      We have just released a new website developed by a third party with business apps that doesn't work properly in IE8 or IE9. It doesn't work properly in Firefox either. It works only in Chrome. Personally I think that's a crock - as much of a crock as some of our internal systems only working properly in IE. Why are these coders so lazy as to not make these work in all browsers? Why not code to W3C standards?
  • Peaople leave Chrome beacause it has become unreliable

    Since a few months, Chrome crashes on a regular basis. For instance, on Flash (yeah, I know, it is trendy to bash Flash, but other browsers seem to manage it well) and, sometimes Chrome even produces some kind of memory leak that swamps my system completely.
    (The iPad version also crashes often.) I still use Chroome because I am hooked on it's sync features but Google should wake up : I can understand why this kind of troubles can cause users to desert Chrome.
    • plus Google+

      I think people finally get the nature of the beast when everything goes through G+
  • Why I rarely Chrome

    I almost never Chrome because I can't get it to print without wasting reams of paper.

    What is particularly unappealing is the inability to print Google calendar daily pages in a useful way.

    So, I end up back on IE where I can simply highlight what I want to print, select print preview, select print selection, drag the margin to where I want so the times aren't hidden under the clip of a clipboard, select a dimension and voila" , Print my daily schedule without any extraneous garbage.

    In particularly an extra line at the top of the page that says "Calendar" . I know it is a calendar, I don't need the word calendar printed on every calendar I print.

    Next MAJOR problem with printing the Google daily calendar from Chrome,, it insists on printing only the 2 hours before the current time and the 6 hours following it. It will not print my scheduled "workday" unless the current time is already within the 1st 2 hours of the designated workday.

    Yeah, yeah.. I know.. One of you Chrome lovers is going to write about all the wonderful extensions available to aid in printing. The best I have found so far is a screen shot thing,, but,, I really don't want to have to take a screen shot, save it, open my photo editor, find the saved screen shot, crop out what I want, resize and reorient it to print landscape with a 1 inch left margin, print it and then end up with a saved copy of the un-cropped calendar wasting storage space on my hard drive.
    • I use only if I HAVE TO USE Flash.

      Beyond that, I have Flash un-installed (and have for years). There are a very few websites still requiring Flash but it is a small number. I would say I kick up Chrome about once every 2 weeks or so. Chrome loads pretty slowly (like OmniWeb loads faster) but is snappy once loaded.
  • Unstable

    I was a very heavy Chrome user, but I definitely started noticing it's crashing much more frequently. So, I've switched back to IE. Until IE can't handle some Java or Flash (seems to happen more than I'd like), then I use Chrome because contrary JB5645's experience, I've found Chrome's handling of Java and Flash to be better than IE in some cases. Then I have Firefox in case all **** hits the fan.
  • Old IE was hard to code for

    IE 8 is an OK browser. 9 & especially 10 are excellent modern browsers, especially when you strip out the badly written addons you blame in Firefox. Turns out having a good product means people use it ;)
    The real question is what happens with the shift to tablets, which NA tracks with mobile rather than with notebooks & desktops, so is hard to analyze comparatively.
    • Mobile

      Opera is the best choice for our tablets.

      On the desktop we use FF and Chrome.
      • speak for your self...