Top web browsers 2020: Edge passes IE for the first time, 4-1/2 years after launch

There's no sign yet that the just-released Chromium-based Edge is drawing hordes of new users. Meanwhile, Mozilla's Firefox continues its slide, leaving Google's Chrome still dominant.

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After three months of gains, in January Microsoft's browsers flipped to the "Decline" setting and shed user share. And for the first time, Microsoft's newer browser, Edge, posted a larger share than the aged veteran Internet Explorer (IE).

According to data published Saturday by analytics company Net Applications, Microsoft's January browser share - a combination of Edge and IE - fell by six-tenths of a percentage point to 13.6%. On its own IE dropped almost nine-tenths of a point - that browser's largest one-month decline since September 2019 - but Edge's increase of three-tenths of a percentage point nullified some of the older browser's loss.

For January, IE recorded a user share of 6.6%, while Edge posted 7%. It was the first time since Edge's mid-2015 debut in its original form that that browser bested IE. (Microsoft relaunched Edge on Jan. 15 as a browser built atop Chromium, the Google-led open-source project whose technologies also power Chrome.)

Although IE might again occasionally edge Edge in user share, the trend will almost certainly be IE's continued decline. The browser will be supported on Windows 7 for three years and Windows 10 for likely as long, but it's a dead end kept alive only to keep enterprise customers from revolting. Even Edge's integrated "IE mode" will eventually be retired.

Meanwhile, Edge's portion of Windows 10's browser activity - a measurement Computerworld has touted as a better indicator of the browser's mettle than user share on all personal computers - ended January at 12.3%, the same number as the month before, hinting that there was little new demand for the revamped Chromium-based Edge on Windows 10, or the other platforms (Windows 7, Windows 8.1, macOS) that it runs on, for that matter.

Edge's user share performance will be worth watching in 2020, as Microsoft has staked everything on the all-Chromium clone of Chrome, what with IE relegated to a legacy role and the original Edge a complete flop. Going for the new Edge: Microsoft's reputation in supporting its software in the enterprise, primarily through its management chops. Against it: Chrome's dominance in corporations, unequal management be damned, and strangely enough, Microsoft's odd decision to force Chrome in Office 365 environments to default to Bing as its search engine.

If Microsoft perseveres - resistance has mounted, with users and IT administrators denouncing the decision - and weds Chrome to Microsoft Search for Office 365 tenants, it's annulling one of the most obvious reasons enterprises would adopt Edge.

That just seems odd.

Firefox slumps to share low not seen since 2016

In January, Firefox gave up two-tenths of a percentage point of user share, sliding to 8.1%, the lowest mark since August 2016.

Last month was the eighth straight that Firefox's user share was lower than 9 percentage points, also a record. (Firefox had a four-month slump in the summer of 2016, but it bounced back, climbing to 13% before it again started the decline that continues.)

Nor is the forecast anything but depressing for Mozilla. That prediction - based, as always, on the 12-month average of changes - now has Firefox slipping under 8% as early as April and falling to 7% by September. Both dates are sooner than the forecast of a month ago because of the January dip.

That's the last thing Mozilla needs at the moment. It's 2018 finances showed slightly greater expenditures than income. More recently, the organization admitted it had failed to make its revenue goals, which had included significant subscription moneys, and laid off 70 employees.

Firefox-related subscriptions can't save Mozilla if Firefox has fewer and fewer users.

Can anything unseat Chrome?

Chrome turned it around - somewhat - in January, adding three-tenths of a point to its user share to end the month at 66.9%. (Ironically, that was the same number Chrome hit in February 2019.)

The small gain put an end to a three-month stretch of losses, a first for Chrome. It also softened the impact of Chrome's 12-month downturn so that Computerworld's forecast now predicts the browser stays about 66% well through this year and all of next. Without considerably more turbulence in Chrome's share movement, there's no chance Google loses its top-of-the-heap spot.

Considering the weakness of Firefox, the only viable threat to Chrome has to be Edge, Microsoft's attempt to supplant the leader with, well, the leader's step-sister.

Safari's explosive growth? Yeah, that didn't happen

And here we thought that Apple's Safari was making a huge comeback on the Mac. Not so, said Net Applications.

"Due to changes made to the user agent in iPadOS 13, iPads were identified as macOS devices," the California metrics vendor wrote on its website. "This change propagated progressively from September to December and required an adjustment to the data in that timeframe."

In other words, by mistakenly tallying iPads running iPadOS 13, which launched in September, as macOS-powered devices, Net Applications overestimated not only the share of macOS but also of anything running on it, like Safari.

In Safari's case, the differences between the contemporaneous shares and those recently adjusted to remove the iPadOS data were dramatic. In December, for instance, Net Applications had pegged Safari's user share as 6%.That month's adjusted share: just 3.8%.

The other months from September on showed similar variance between original and adjusted shares. November's 5.3% (reported at the time) fell to 3.6% (adjusted by eliminating iPadOS); October's 4.8% became 3.4%; and September's 4.4% sunk to 3.4%.

In January, Safari added another five-tenths of a percentage point to climb to 4.2%, meaning that during 2019 Safari grew by less than one-tenth of a point, not the gargantuan-in-comparison 2.3 percentage points Computerworld reported a month ago.

Frankly, the very large gains by Safari should have raised eyebrows and questions. Instead, Computerworld posited that Safari's growth "demonstrated that Chrome can be vulnerable, at least in some spaces."

How naive.

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

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