Top web browsers 2019: Chrome seesaws yet again

Google's Chrome browser gave up some of its recent gains in October, but those losses did little to erode its commanding position among browsers.

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Top browsers, May 2019

Chrome in May bounced back from a massive April decline to reach a record user share of nearly 68%, sending rivals' shares tumbling.

As Computerworld pointed out a month ago when reporting on Chrome's record loss during April, short-term browser movements often lead nowhere. Such was the case when Chrome did a 180-degree turn, adding 2.3 percentage points in May, more than it had lost the month before.

The bounce-back was the fourth straight time that, when Chrome lost user share, it regained enough to erase the loss a month later.

According to Internet analytics company Net Applications, Chrome's May user share reached 67.9%, a new high for the Google browser. The increase was the largest since August 2016, when Chrome accounted for 54% of all user share and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge still owned over a third of global share. Over the last 12 months, Chrome has gained five percentage points.

May's gain put Chrome back on track to break the 70% barrier before year's end. Where last month's forecast pegged the browser making that mark by June 2020, the latest calculation - based on the 12-month average - pegs Chrome at 70% by October.

Firefox retreats..., again

As Chrome climbed, other browsers descended the user share ladder. Mozilla's Firefox lost seven-tenths of a percentage point in May, its largest single-month decline since November 2017, when Net Applications reset shares across the board because it eliminated bot-driven traffic from its data. Firefox last month fell to 9.5%, returning the browser to its December 2018 level.

Firefox has had a terrible time sustaining any user share growth. In the last year, the longest uptick has been just two months, so May's quick retreat wasn't unexpected. But it has to concern Mozilla that the browser, the mainstay of its efforts, can't shake itself out of the single-digit doldrums, climb into 10%+ territory and stay there.

Computerworld's latest forecast for Firefox now concludes the browser will remain under 10% for the foreseeable future, sliding below 9% in August 2020. Somehow, Mozilla's engineers and designers have to come up with features that will entice new users to join up (or old ones to return). The November 2017 release of "Quantum," a Firefox redesign that rolled out to some fanfare, has failed to translate into greater share. In fact, it's been the opposite: Firefox's user share has fallen about 2 percentage points since, representing a 20% decline.

Only Microsoft's browsers have dropped more than that in the same stretch.

IE's share of all Windows slides below 9%

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, the combined user share of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge slid nine-tenths of a percentage point to 13%. The decline added to the ongoing slide for Microsoft's browsers, which have lost 3 percentage points in the last 12 months. May's fall erased more than two-thirds of April's out-of-the-blue gains.

Most of the user share drop-off came from IE, the legacy browser Microsoft maintains with monthly security updates but won't upgrade with new features. During May, an anemic 8.7% of all Windows users ran IE. No wonder some - including Computerworld - expect IE to vanish, or at best be absorbed into Edge when that browser adds an IE mode to its Chromium foundation.

Edge slipped as well, dipping in May by two-tenths of a percentage point, even as Windows 10's user share grew by 1.6 points. Edge accounted for an estimated 11.7% of all Windows 10 browsing activity last month, down eight-tenths of a point from April. That was, however, the first decline since December.

Apple's Safari fell three-tenths of a point - three times what it had lost in April - to end at 3.3%, its lowest since the end of 2008. Safari's smaller share was again at least partly due to the continuing shrinking of macOS user share, which slipped about a tenth of a point. But like IE, Edge and Firefox, Safari has suffered from the come-to-Chrome movement; its share of all macOS drooped to 35.5% in May. Two years ago, Apple's browser owned 54% of the Mac browser activity market.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people use to reach the websites of Net Applications' clients. The firm tallies visitor sessions to quantify browser user activity.

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