The Web browser wars continue, and #1 is… well, that depends on whom you ask

The Web browser wars continue, and #1 is… well, that depends on whom you ask

Summary: Did you think the desktop Web browser wars were over? Hah! Depending on whose numbers you use, Internet Explorer or Chrome has already won; the real battle is for second place. I explain what’s going on.

No question about it! Net Market Share clearly shows IE ended 2012 as the top Web browser.
Yep, there's no doubt at all, as StatCounter shows, Chrome ended the year as the top Web browser... wait a second!

In some ways, the "winner" of the top desktop browser wars doesn’t really matter. As end users, as long as we have a choice of Web browser, we can pick the one whose interface works for us. But browser numbers matter a lot more when you're a software developer trying to understand who's most likely to use your Web application – or to complain about it not working right. That's especially true, too, when you support business users inside a company, since there's just so many desktop configurations any sane sysadmin can maintain.

 Which makes these two competing desktop Web browser market share reports all the more confounding.

If you buy Net Market Share's desktop Web browser numbers, then in December 2012 Internet Explorer (IE) was still in first with 55% of the market with Firefox leading Google Chrome 20% to 18% for second place. But, if you put your faith in StatCounter's browser statistics, then Chrome ended 2012 as the top browser with 36% and IE is number two, 31%, with Firefox lagging behind at 22%. What's going on here?

First, while both companies have the same general goal—measuring Web browser popularity—they use different methodologies. Ultimately, they're not really measuring the same thing, or even trying to do so. Net Applications, Net Market Share's parent company, is more interested in counting unique visitors' Web browser hits, while StatCounter looks at raw browser hits.

Officially, here's StatCounter Web browser tracking methodology:

Our tracking code is installed on more than 3 million sites globally. These sites cover various activities and geographic locations. Every month, we record billions of page views to these sites. For each page view, we analyze the browser/operating system/screen resolution used and we establish if the page view is from a mobile device. For our search engine stats, we analyze every page view referred by a search engine. For our social media stats, we analyze every page view referred by a social media site. We summarize all this data to get our Global Stats information.

We provide independent, unbiased stats on Internet usage trends. We do not collate our stats with any other information sources. No artificial weightings are used ( We remove bot activity ( make a small adjustment to our browser stats for prerendering in Google Chrome ( Aside from those adjustments, we publish the data as we record it.

In other words, we calculate our Global Stats on the basis of more than 15 billion page views per month, by people from all over the world onto our 3 million+ member sites.

 Net Market Share's method is:

[To] collect data from the browsers of site visitors to our exclusive on-demand network of HitsLink Analytics and SharePost clients. The network includes over 40,000 websites, and spans the globe. We ‘count’ unique visitors to our network sites, and only count one unique visit to each network site per day. This is part of our quality control process to prevent fraud, and ensure the most accurate portrayal of Internet usage market share. The data is compiled from approximately 160 million unique visits per month. The information published on is an aggregation of the data from this network of hosted website traffic statistics. In addition, we classify 430+ referral sources identified as search engines. Aggregate traffic referrals from these engines are summarized and reported monthly. The statistics for search engines include both organic and sponsored referrals.

Net Market Share also massages the data by weighting it by a country's Web traffic, to balance out the global data. "We compare our traffic to the CIA Internet Traffic by Country table, and weight our data accordingly. For example, if our global data shows that Brazil represents 2% of our traffic, and the CIA table shows Brazil to represent 4% of global Internet traffic, we will count each unique visitor from Brazil twice.” Their reasoning is that all regions have differing markets, and without this adjustment, the global data would be inappropriately affected by those regions. In their view, country level weighting removes any bias by region.

Which methodology is "better" depends on your purpose. If all you want is numbers that reflect the sheer volume of Web traffic, then StatCounter is your source. If you care more about unique visitors, as do many Web advertisers, then put your trust in Net Market Share.

Google, of course, thinks Chrome is the the top dog Web browser and Microsoft, needless to say, believes IE is king of the mountain.

The whole question of which desktop Web browser is on top may seem a little old hat, but I think it's more important than ever Wewb Web applications are starting to become browser specific. For example, Google no longer supports Google Apps on IE 8—the newest version of IE that will run on Windows XP. So, if you run both XP and Google Apps, Chrome has become your default choice. Conversely, you can't run Chrome at all on Windows RT.  

So it is that I think the desktop Web browser wars won't be cooling down at all in 2013. Indeed, I think they'll heat up more than ever.

Related Stories:

Topics: Browser, Google, Microsoft, Networking, PCs, Windows

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • StatCounter is not scienfic and seems rubbish

    "If you buy Net Market Share's desktop Web browser numbers, then in December 2012 Internet Explorer (IE) was still in first with 55% of the market with Firefox leading Google Chrome 20% to 18% for second place"

    IE is still the KING !

    StatCounter method is subject to massive fraud and totally unreliable.
    • On the contrary it shows how weak IE really is!

      Net Market Share shows the unique visitors not the real usage it means no one really is using IE they just open it once and download the real browser -FF & chrome - and that is the end of the usage of IE for them!
      • That is our geek world

        But in the non-geek world, a lot of them still don't know what a web browser is and still consider the big blue "e" to be "the internet" (or the Safari compass for their iPhone, but even then some didn't know they could go on "the internet" with their iPhone).

        I know this picture is not as frequent as it was ten years ago when IE had 90% market share, but it still occurs more than it should. So yes there are still out there a lot of people using IE as their default browser and will be for a long time as IE 9 and 10 are much better browsers than IE 8 and older were, so unless someone is using XP I don't try to make them change browser anymore.
        • It depends on your OS

          I have Windows 8 and IE 10 offers the best browser experience in the Modern UI and I use Chrome on the desktop mode. I don't think there is a one-size-fits-all, it depends on what you want you browser to do... I don't like the way Google manage your personal infos, so I don't log in to google when I use Chrome... I prefer Microsoft's ways. But again, most people don't even know what Google do with their personal infos...
          Simon Tupper
          • Wow

            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(Click on menu Home)

            Happy New Year!
        • well i did not say there was no one using IE

          the statcounter is showing those crowds too, it is 31% and shrinking!
          my reply was to Owlll1net which wrongly was implying that statcounter that is showing the real usage -not one hit and run- is a fraud or something!
    • StatCounter figures seem more easily skewed...

      It seems that it'd be more difficult to skew NetApp's numbers (which measures unique visitors) than StatCounter's (which measures "hits").

      Either way, I'm not sure how much these "market share" numbers really mean. I mean, don't they show iOS with 60% of mobile market share, even though Android outsells iPhones by about 4-to-1 now? And, yes, I know, mobile market share is not the same as "sales," but still... if the numbers are so different, then how reliable are they?

      I think you should check this.
    • Lets burry the hatchet...

      Check the numbers published by Wikimedia:

      Unless I believe that Wikimedia is working for Google/Mozilla... the parties OTHER than MS,
      I'd take them as a fair (if not precise) representation of browser usage.
  • #1 is...

    the consumer, who gets a lot of good choice.
    Michael Alan Goff
    • No choice really

      I wanna code a web app in a far better language than JAVASCRIPT and yet there's no alternative. The end result is each web app looks like junk.
      • Java as improved a lot

        Microsoft did a good job at making Java better and more efficient.
        Simon Tupper
        • Wait.. what?

          Microsoft hate Java... did you mean JavaScript?
          • Yes

            Microsoft hates Java, Apple hates Java, every IT security professional in this planet hates Java...
    • And sometimes a choice is a trick

      When Adobe pulled the trick of suddenly installing Chrome and making it the default browser on a standard Flash Update a lot of people were caught by not seeing those ticked boxes. They've transferred it to the website now instead of the update tool, but anyone who updates Flash has to carefully turn off the ticked defaults of Chrome installation. If you don't know how to reset your default browser, then you're stuck with Chrome.

      I have no problem with choice, but tricky marketing seems to be preferred by Google.
      • I hate those checkboxes

        I don't mind companies trying to make a bit of cash by including optional software in installs as long as checkboxes are not pre-checked! How many times have I been asked "where is my Google gone, it says "Ask" now when I open IE"...
  • The Web Browser war is over, users and standards are the losers

    I've written before on ZDNet how apple has successfully Embraced, Extended, and Extinguished the HTML standard. Here is further proof, from someone who clearly LIKES apple, that apple has Embraced, Extended, and Extinguished the HTML web standard:
    "I will treat the WebKit implementation of all viewport-related and touch-event-related CSS and JavaScript as the de-facto standard. If there is only one WebKit implementation, I will measure how well Opera, IE, and Firefox emulate it. I will also ignore any W3C standard that does not comply with established WebKit practice."


    Now, this person does have a couple factual mistakes:
    "As to W3C, it gave up its right to lead by doing nothing."

    This is not truthful. W3C tried to create a standard based on apple's implementation but apple stated that they would sue anyone who tried to implement it:
    "the Cupertino company refuses to commit to disclosure and royalty-free licensing of any patented technology that might cover the Touch Events spec."

    I will end with the closing paragraph of the author above because I'm curious what all of you have to say, especially those who HATE IE for being a de-facto HTML standard for so long:
    "Acknowledging that WebKit is the de-facto standard for viewports and touch events will do no significant harm, and will help move a unified web forward by creating a standard that’s already supported by most browsers."

    So folks, is there truly no harm in promoting a de-facto standard at the expense of W3C standards?
    • Here is a rundown of what is happening

      Here is the order of events:
      1. apple EMBRACES html.

      2. apple EXTENDS html with a proprietary extension called Touch Events.

      3. Mobile websites everywhere start using this extended proprietary API because 95% of all mobile web traffic is done with webkit browsers (is this beginning to sound familiar?).

      4. W3C drafts a standard based on Touch Events so that ALL browsers, even those that dare to not have a huge majority, can work with all mobile web sites (is this beginning to sound familiar?).

      5. apple EXTINGUISHES the html standard by forcing the W3C to abandon the standard after apple refuses to commit to offering royalty free access to apple patents involved in implementing the standard. apple doesn't want an html standard, they want a webkit "standard" defined by whatever apple feels like including in webkit and suing the authors of all competing browser engines who attempt to be compatible with the non standard proprietary apple extensions that web developers are using because apple has such a huge monopoly on the mobile web browser engine market. This FORCES every other browser to either implement webkit or die.

      6. Microsoft, Google, Mozilla, Opera, jQuery, and a few other big players contribute to a new W3C standard called Pointer Events: "Microsoft, unlike Apple, is participating in W3C's standardization process and has made the intellectual property commitments that W3C demands"

      7. Microsoft implements Pointer Events in webkit and submits it.

      8. apple refuses to accept Microsoft's patch because: "Pointer Events spec had (unspecified) problems and that there was no point in supporting Pointer Events until real Web content used it." No point in supporting a standard until real web content used it? Huh. Back when every web developer was supporting MS "standards" apple certainly didn't have that attitude.

      9. apple is given every opportunity to join in the design process but they refuse: "Another Google developer invited Apple to join the Pointer Events Working Group to help improve the specification and address those unspecified problems, but thus far Apple appears to be unwilling to participate."

      Now, before you guys freak out and respond with "but MS did this" remember that this is the point. MS did this. They got in trouble for doing it. They got slammed for doing it. So slam apple now for their Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish tactic on web standards. We were promised that apple would be nicer. We were lied to.
      • Not quite sure I care . . .

        Not quite sure I care so much about this . . .

        "embrace, extend, and extinguish" only works well if you have a practical monopoly on a product. I don't see that Apple does; they have to compete with Android for phones and tablets, and possibly Windows 8 tablets (depending on how well it does).

        And you can only "extinguish" if you have the power to do so. Apple hardly has the power to "extinguish" - the W3C specs aren't beholden to market share, and the W3C won't go bankrupt if one of their specs isn't followed.
        • Webkit has a practical monopoly

          And since Apple seems to choose where webkit goes...
          Michael Alan Goff