Top web browsers 2020: Firefox sinks to share unseen since 2005

It was not good news for Firefox in February, as Mozilla's browser lost users at a pace that left it at its lowest level of market share in 15 years.

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Firefox took a significant turn for the worse last month, falling three times its average share loss over the past year and dropping to a level not seen since 2005.

According to data published Sunday by web metrics vendor Net Applications, Firefox's share in February sank to 7.6%, down six-tenths of a percentage point. It was the eighth month in the last 12 in which Firefox spilled users and the third largest downturn during that stretch.

The last time Firefox recorded a share that low was in September 2005, when it also posted a 7.6% marker. At the time, Firefox was still chipping away at Internet Explorer (IE), Microsoft's then-keystone of browsers, as it slowly grew to become a legitimate threat to Redmond. IE accounted for an astounding 86.8% of global share in September 2005.

Firefox's decline erased nearly 7% of the browser's position at the start of the month. To put that into context, Firefox's slide was equivalent to Google Chrome's losing 4.5 percentage points since Feb. 1.

The plummet upended Computerworld's forecast, which relied on Firefox's 12-month average. A month ago, that prediction pointed to a June share of 7.7%. Not only did Firefox lose all that, and more, in just a month but according to the revised forecast, June now looks to be when the browser slips under 7%. By year's end, Firefox could be as low as 6% unless something clots the bleeding.

The stress of these share losses was recently revealed, as Mozilla posted a revenue-expense imbalance in 2018 and a little later laid off 70 people.

It's possible things will become even bleaker at Mozilla.

Getting Edgy?

Microsoft's two browsers - IE and the revamped-with-Chromium-Edge - added two-tenths of a percentage point in February, a slight rebound from the triple-that decline of the month before. IE+Edge ended last month at 13.8%.

The increase, such as it was, came solely from Edge: IE spilled two-tenths of a point, sliding to 6.4% while Edge put four-tenths more on its tally, climbing to 7.4%. That's as it should be, the old out and the new in.

Edge's increase put it at a record level, something that's occurred monthly for the past three quarters. But it's still impossible to say with certainty that Microsoft's decision to abandon its own Edge technologies and replace them with those from Chromium has been behind the gradual increase. It is looking increasingly likely, however. February's percentage of Windows 10 PCs running Edge - assuming that Edge on Windows 7 and macOS contributions has been negligible - was 12.9%, above the 12-month-prior median by a full point.

Meanwhile, IE's share was at its lowest since September, when it took a temporary dip.

Forecasting Edge's future will be difficult until it establishes a clearer trend, which may not happen until Windows 10's growth slows. (Up to Jan. 15, when Chromium Edge officially launched, Microsoft's newer browser was Windows 10-only; it almost certainly will remain Windows 10-dominant.) Microsoft has promised that it will not make the new Edge the default browser on systems where it wasn't already so set. That means the company's plan to replace the original Edge with the Chromium-based Edge shouldn't artificially boost the browser's numbers.

Staying Chromey

Chrome added three-tenths of a percentage point last month - the same as in January - to end at 67.3%, its highest mark since October.

The increase left Chrome short of its 2019 peak - 68.6% in July - and improved the 12-month forecast by putting Google's browser back on a growth road, albeit a very slow road. (The forecast had Chrome staying within 67% through year's end, even past the midway point of 2021.)

In plainer terms, Chrome will continue to play the browser gorilla. Unless Microsoft pulls some unknown-as-yet rabbit from its Edge hat, Chrome will remain untouched by rivals for the near-to-mid-range future.

Elsewhere, Apple's Safari slumped four-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9%, while Opera Software's namesake dropped two-tenths of a point, falling to 1.2%. Safari's once impressive growth by Net Applications' account - spurred by mistakenly tallying iPads running iPadOS 13 as macOS devices - was reined in last month when the analytics company revised several months of past data. In February, Safari did stay above the same month's 2019 level, though (but by just two-tenths of a point).

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

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