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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Top web browsers, September 2019

Microsoft's browsers stumbled last month, dropping share like a lame Netflix series and falling to a record low after wiping out all of 2019's gains, plus more.

According to data published today by analytics company Net Applications, Microsoft's browser share for September - composed of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge - fell 1.8 percentage points to 12%, an all-time low. To put the decline in perspective, the browsers accounted for a user share of 12.4% at the first of this year and hit a high of 14% in April.

More than two-thirds of that decline was attributed to IE, which plummeted by nearly 1.4 points, falling to 6.1%, a record low for the browser that once lorded if over the web. Edge also slid in September, losing four-tenths of a percentage point and dropping to 5.9%. Edge's slip erased almost all of its gains in August, when the Windows 10-only browser reached a record high.

Because of the concurrent rise in Windows 10's share of all operating systems, Edge's raw decline translated into a more substantial drop in its share of Windows 10's browsers. That number fell to 11.2% in September, the lowest level all year.

Although the "full-Chromium" Edge, the version Microsoft's building using technologies from the Google-dominated Chromium project, is under construction, the browser's future is cloudy at best. Clarity won't come until Microsoft finishes the Chromium-based Edge and forces that onto Windows 10 users, something the company has said it will do at some point after launch.

IE fared even worse in a comparison with all the other browsers that run on Windows. By Net Applications' numbers, IE accounted for only 7% of all Windows browsing last month, also a record low. Microsoft kept IE on support only because some organizations require it for aged apps or intranet sites, but that rationale has faded fast: In the last 12 months, IE's share of all Windows declined by 60%. Another year like that and IE will be an afterthought run by fewer than 5% of Windows users.

Firefox scratches, survives another month

Firefox added three-tenths of a percentage point to its user share in September, wrapping up the month at 8.7% and marking the second straight month of keeping things in the black. Even so, it was fourth consecutive month that Firefox remained under 9%, tying a record set in May, June, July and August 2016.

Although it was another month that Firefox scratched out some gains, the browser still stands on shaky ground. Because the last 12 months shows a decline of nearly a percentage point, Computerworld's revised forecast - based on the 12-month average - has Firefox slipping under 8% about mid-2020.

For all of Mozilla's work on Firefox - from the redesign two years ago to its aggressive adoption of anti-tracking and pro-privacy measures - nothing has kicked the browser into sustained growth. A year ago, Firefox's share was 9.6%; when Mozilla introduced Firefox Quantum in November 2017, the share was 11.4%. Only three of the past 18 months recorded shares of 10% or more.

Chrome commandeers more share

Google's Chrome put another 1.3 percentage points on its frame, weighing in for the month at 68.5%, just a tenth of a point off the record high set in July.

Last month, Computerworld noted the odd pattern to Chrome's share, stretches when the browser would add share one month, lose much of it the next. That continued in September - this has been regular as the proverbial clockwork since February - when Chrome went on its growth spurt after shedding 1.4 points in August.

If the tick-tock continues this month, October should be a downer for Chrome.

But as Computerworld has said before, what counts is the long-term movement of a browser. There, Chrome has done well, adding 2.1 percentage points to its share over the last year. Another sign: The 68.5% of September was the second-highest mark for the browser, edged out only by July's 68.6%.

Chrome's gains, stymied as they have been at times by losing months, put a new spin on Computerworld's prediction of its future. Using the 12-month average, the forecast pegs Chrome at more than 69% in November and over 70% by May.

Computerworld has Net Application records going back to January 2005, so it's possible to compare Chrome's prowess today with IE's of yesteryear.

Google comes off second best there - for now, at least - because IE's share was an astounding 89.4% that month. The remainder was split among rivals, including Firefox (at 5.6%), Apple's Safari (1.7%) and Netscape's Navigator (2%). It wasn't until December 2008 that IE's share fell to about where Chrome's is now.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, Apple's Safari grew by half a percentage point to 4.4% and Opera Software's browser stayed where it was at 1.4%. Safari's increase was the second straigh,t but was a due entirely to a nearly-two percentage point leap by macOS that put the operating system in unknown territory (and likely on shaky ground; macOS' 11.6% simply won't stand up).

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 measure browser user activity.

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