The browser wars seem to have settled into an uneasy truce

The browser wars seem to have settled into an uneasy truce

Summary: A funny thing happened in the past year: People stopped switching browsers, at least on conventional PCs and Macs. Chrome and Firefox usage are down, and Internet Explorer's share is up. What's going on?

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I used to pay really close attention to measurements of desktop browser usage share. Between 2004 and 2010 I did regular updates using stats from my personal site. Over the past couple years I have done the same thing here using data from Net Market Share, which publishes snapshots of web usage based on data from 160 million visits per month to its network (the exact methodology is here).

When I heard that this month's numbers were available, it dawned on me that I hadn't looked carefully at browser shares in well over a year. After reviewing this month's data and looking back at 18 months' worth of trends, I understand why.

The browser wars are over, at least on the desktop.

Want proof? Look at the Net Market Share numbers from November of this year and the corresponding period last year. 

eb-browser-stats-nov2011-2012

Microsoft's Internet Explorer garnered 54.87% of web usage worldwide last month. That's up from 52.73% a year ago, and it's an improvement over the June 2011 figure of 53.7%.

Meanwhile, Firefox and Chrome are both down in usage from a year ago at this time, with Mozilla's share sliding nearly 2 percentage points to 20.48% and Google dropping nearly 1 point to 17.28%.

Safari and Opera are both up incrementally.

The patterns one can see in the data match what I see anecdotally.

Microsoft has fixed most of what once made Internet Explorer so awful, with massive improvements in both performance and security. Back in June of 2011 I called IE "the biggest loser" and noted that on the Net Market Share scale, "IE is in danger of slipping below the 50% mark." It looks like that's not going to happen. Those who quit using IE are unlikely to return, but the exodus seems to have stopped.

Firefox was the default choice for years of people who wanted to avoid IE-related security issues or wanted more customizability. But being the anti-IE turned into a liability when Google came in with a newer, faster alternative to Internet Explorer.

Here's what I wrote a year and a half ago:

Over the years, [Firefox] has defined itself as the safe alternative to Internet Explorer, and it had that slot all to itself while Microsoft was cleaning up its Vista mess. But now it’s been replaced in that role by Chrome, which has the full weight of Google behind it. Given that Google has been Mozilla’s chief backer through the years, it’s hard to see a bright future for Firefox.

I don't see anything coming out of Mozilla these days that will improve its prospects on the desktop.

And finally there's Google.  After years of meteoric growth, Chrome seems to have stalled, hitting its peak sometime last year. In my experience, it's successfully carved out an identity as "the browser people use when they use lots of other Google services." Google is making a concerted effort to push Chrome and its Google search app to Windows 8 users. It will be interesting to check those numbers in a year or so, with more than 100 million Windows 8 users.

Most gratifying of all was seeing the share of Internet Explorer 6 at a mere 6.51%, with IE7 even lower than that at 2.26%. Together those two horribly outdated browsers make up less than 9% of all web traffic. A year from now that number should drop by more than half (although in a perfect world it would drop to zero).

Conventional PCs continue to sell hundreds of millions of units a year, and people continue using them to access online information. So these numbers are still meaningful to a very large economy.

But the battleground has shifted. A great deal of web traffic has migrated to mobile devices, which use completely different browsers. And it's also true that a lot of that mobile traffic has moved off the web and into apps.

Collectively, on mobile devices, Safari and Google's Android Browser account for more than 88% of all mobile/tablet browser share. The good news for Microsoft is that Internet Explorer's share on those mobile devices and tablets has doubled in the past year. The bad news is that in November 2012 its share was still below 1% (0.96%, to be precise).

If you're trying to understand why Microsoft is so focused on mobile users in Windows 8, there's your answer.

Topics: Browser, Google, Microsoft

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145 comments
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  • Using multiple browsers inflates the IE share

    I switched from IE to Firefox a few years ago, but fire up IE 9/10 a few times a week. I don't know how common this is, but it must be inflating IE's browser share.

    I'm surprised that IE 10 is now faster than Firefox for an Ajax webmail service (Opera).
    Eric Gisin
    • erm

      stats count web page usage... not install base. so stop BSin lol
      danjames2012
      • Exactly

        So all this "pre fetching" excuses that Net Application is using is of no importance. Who cares if Chrome loads web pages in the background to speed things up? The point is that the user is still using chrome.
        MrElectrifyer
        • Seeing how inadequate HTML5 is

          Seeing how inadequate HTML5 is, you gotta wonder what they are fighting all about. The spot light is definitely on the native side where great modern mobile apps are made.
          LBiege
          • HTML 5 would benefit consumers

            more than native apps. Imagine the capability to run any app via browser on the platform you choose. The power of HTML 5 allows developers to provide an app to everyone without Native app stores getting in the way.

            Here's a great example:

            http://www.contrejour.ie/#fbid=cDqaknEgthL
            Rob.sharp
          • HTML 5.... why not Java?

            Imagine the capability to run any app via browser on the platform you choose if every developmental group for these platforms can choose Java, Flash, or even old html technologies. It's already happened with flash... the problem being is companies like Apple Inc. that want to force their developers into html5 as a standard instead of agreeing with the rest of the industry that has already chose flash as this standard, a standard that has worked for years... but not supported by some companies because they simply have their own initiatives on forcing their own standard.

            When HTML5 becomes the new standard by overwhelming popularity...there will be other companies to start advertising what they believe should be the "new standard". It's all a male organ measuring contest when it comes to this instead of companies working together to make life easier for the development community.
            CryptixH4X
          • Java and Flash have major security issues.

            In this case it's not about who's organ is biggest, it's about who's organ is the cleanest.
            mrefuman
          • Ed Bot's reference is not credible (Netmarketshare)

            Currently if you use your own web pages,look at Statcounter, Wikimedia, or church Wikipedia, Clicky, you would see that Chrome has overtaken Explorer a few months ago.

            Netmarketshare currently states that mobile browsing is only 0.55%, even pc sales, phone sales and all metrics place it at 10%. Which clearly show how untrustworthy Netmarketshare is.

            At the very least Ed Bot should have done his home work and averaged results from multiple sources. This article lacks merit on the basis of incorrect and flawed data.
            Uralbas
          • fyi Chrome's market share is > 30% IE

            Reference Statcounter, W3schools, Wikimedia
            Uralbas
          • Firefox needs to wake up to itself

            I want Firefox to succeed in the Post PC era. But Mozilla still doesn't get it.

            Imagine this. You embrace the Post PC era. Your only two computing devices are an Android phone and an Android Nexus tablet. You move between those two devices regularly, so you want to sync your Firefox bookmarks. How do you do it?

            You can't.

            The only way to do it, according to Mozilla's instructions, is to use a PC to set up a sync account. They suggest using Windows XP. Mozilla doesn't allow you to set up sync from your mobile or tablet.

            What madness. Please get your act together, Mozilla, and step into the modern era. I want you to do well, but you're just not thinking this out enough.
            Vbitrate
          • Sigh

            I'll show you more courtesy than you show me with your juvenile misspelling of my name.

            Net Market Share breaks out mobile browsing into a separate category. The numbers I quote here are from the DESKTOP browsing category.

            They broke out mobile browsing into its own category roughly two years ago because the numbers had gotten so large and the categories can't be easily compared. So, contrary to what you say, they are not ignoring mobile browsing but actually COUNTING IT SEPARATELY.

            http://www.netmarketshare.com/browser-market-share.aspx?qprid=0&qpcustomd=1

            You may now resume your trolling.
            Ed Bott
          • How much did you get for this one?

            Needless to say this article is nothing close to objective or non-partial, and provides no useful insight in consumer behaviour. Quoting one percentage from one website, without clarifying their methodology and such, has zero value. Browser metrics is something a lot more difficult to calculate. Also Ed forgot to mention mobile. Even though MS might delay the Chrome/FF with IE10 (which is indeed better but still due to its updates policy will never be as cutting edge as the competition) - has already lost the battle where the game is at: mobile/tablet. Google and the cloud have won this battle, and it won't be far when they also start taking up on the desktop market with the Chromebooks. It's been a lovely 20 years of windows everyone. Enough
            Georgios Papadopoulonikolakopoulos
          • IT is called marketing

            @Uralbas
            You would have seen adverts in TV where both Colgate and Oral B claims that theirs is the most recommended brand by dentists (technically impossible). the new age of marketing is blog marketing.
            dheerajnagpal
        • prefetch problems

          You base your calculations on page usage, because identifying users would be much more difficult. Chromes pre-fetching makes things more difficult because there are no percentage of pages hit vs. pages pre-fetched.
          redave
    • just lies

      Ed Bott is very probably paid by Microsoft....se unbiased results....IE has been in decline many years and is for now N2
      http://gs.statcounter.com/#browser-ww-monthly-200807-201212

      and will probalby become N3 :-P
      anywherehome
      • Spurious Results

        All I can say is that I have experience with a number of enterprises, small shops, and regular home users, and what I see out there isn't reflected at all by the StatCounter results. Well above half of the users I see are using IE.

        Personally, I've been using Chrome for a while now--but IE10 has made me reconsider IE. As an experiment, I'm exclusively using it at work (although I'm still using Chrome at home). Time will tell if it's good enough to get the job done.
        ParrotHead_FL
        • wrong logic

          With your logic you should even count non used PC in stores which are just with IE ;-)
          anywherehome
          • wrong logic

            And just how many of those "non-used" PCs in stores are actually being used on the web? None? You make one true statement, though- "wrong logic", except that applies to your logic, not to real life...
            xplorer1959
        • I'm using IE almost exclusively again

          Since I have been working with SharePoint all day long for a number of years, I needed to use IE (I always tell SharePoint users they are using the wrong browser if they aren't in IE - stuff doesn't work as well with other browsers). I started using IE for almost everything a little while back - on most of my machines I have not installed Chrome and I no longer see any need to ever use Firefox.

          Using IE 9 was rough with SharePoint 2010 - there were memory leaks that I can't yet get around. When I get SharePoint patched up to date this should get better, but for myself, I am now using IE 10 and finding it to be much better.

          I would recommend a nicely locked down IE as the best way to go. Fast enough and very secure.
          Schoolboy Bob
          • Incompatibility

            MS purposely makes their applications so that they don't behave nicely with other browsers. My office uses sharepoint and I am forced to use IE to get it to work properly even though I prefer to use Firefox. The only reason IE has such a large market share is that it comes built in to windows. Without that HUGE advantage, they would not have as large a market share.
            Al_nyc