Top web browsers 2019: No end in sight for Firefox's losses

Mozilla's efforts to make Firefox more attractive as a web browser have failed to move the share needle. Meanwhile, Google's Chrome continues its dominance.

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If Firefox were a ship, it would be becalmed on a flat sea, loosened seams leaking faster than the hand-worked pumps can empty the bilge, passengers springing overboard and swimming toward other vessels - those with sails bearing rivals' logos.

According to data published Sunday by analytics company Net Applications, Firefox's share for November slumped to 8.2%, down half a percentage point. It was the seventh month in the last 12 in which Firefox spilled share, the fifth where the loss amounted to a half point or more.

From 2005, when Firefox was scratching its way out of the single digits in an insurrection against Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), the browser has posted lower shares only three times, all in a short stretch of 2016 when Firefox bottomed out at 7.7%. That time, the browser clawed back to 13% (in October 2017) before again shrinking.

Unless something suddenly stems Firefox's current free-fall, the browser will return to that low point of 7.7% by June, according to Computerworld's forecast, which relies on Firefox's 12-month average. That same forecast predicts the open-source browser will dip under 8% as early as January.

Mozilla's efforts to make Firefox more attractive as a browser choice have failed to move the share needle. From its November 2017 "Quantum" relaunch to its recent emphasis on the hottest browser topic - privacy in general, blocking ad and site trackers more specifically - the improvements and enhancements have been accompanied by collective shrug. Or worse, a step toward the exit.

Historically, Firefox has been the counterweight to the then-current leader, first IE, then Google's Chrome. Firefox's flirtation with irrelevancy as exhibited by its smaller user share may see that counterweight go weightless. Microsoft's decision to adopt Google's browser technology for its reborn Edge strengthened the monoculture. Sans Firefox, the browser choice becomes Chrome or near-Chrome.

Chrome: Settling into its spot?

During November, Chrome lost a quarter of a percentage point, dipping to 67.2%, the browser's lowest mark since June.

While the loss was little more than a rounding error and could not be considered a threat to Chrome's dominance by any stretch, Google's browser may be close to its upper-end limit.

Last month's share was identical to Chrome's number at the start of the year, for one, so for all the wild swings -- up 2.3 points one month, down 1.7 points the next -- it ended where it began. And although Chrome shed three-quarters of a percentage point in the past six months, in the last three the movements were a wash, hinting that changes to share have slowed.

The forecast based on the 12-month average foretold some gains -- Chrome should make the 68% mark by June -- but the prophesied increase was significantly less than a month ago, when the prediction contended Chrome would hit 70% by mid-2020.

IE edges Edge

Microsoft's browsers recovered three-tenths of a percentage point in November, the second straight month of share gains (and only the fourth time that's happened in the last five years). IE+Edge ended November at 12.8%.

That total was tallied of two browsers, IE and Edge, with the increase credited entirely to the ancient and obsolete IE, not the at-least-newer Edge: IE climbed four-tenths of a point to 6.8% while Edge fell a tenth to 6%.

Because Windows 10's share of all operating systems also declined, Edge remained with an 11.2% share of all Windows 10 browser activity, the level it's been stuck at for a full quarter.

Measuring Edge against Windows 10 will soon be impossible, as the revamped browser -- Microsoft tossed its own technologies and built a new Edge from Google's Chromium - will reach release status Jan. 15, launching for Windows 7 and 8.1 as well as 10, not to mention macOS.

Whether Edge's remodel will result in a jolt to its user share is unknown. Microsoft is, if not counting on Edge's phoenix-rising, eager to put a thumb on the scale to boost the chances; it will automatically replace the original homegrown Edge with the Chromium-based version rather than wait as users do what they do best, stick with the status quo.

Edge may never gain much ground in Net Applications' measurements. The California metrics vendor best quantifies individuals' browsing activity, and while Microsoft wouldn't object if that group dumped Chrome for a Chrome clone, there's good evidence that the retuned Edge is a corporate play.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, Apple's Safari gained half a percentage point for the fourth consecutive month, climbing to 5.3%, and Opera Software's browser remained flat at 1.3%. Safari's increase came as macOS climbed six-tenths of a percentage point to 11.6%, a record for Apple's operating system. For November, Safari's share of macOS rose to 45.6%, the highest mark since December 2017, showing that it is possible for a browser to convince customers to ditch Chrome for a browser they'd used before.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers that render the websites of Net Applications' clients. The firm tallies visitor sessions to measure browser user activity.

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