Implausibly, IE survives… and perhaps thrives

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.
Written by Jack Schofield, Contributor

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. 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.


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