Top web browsers 2018: IE and Edge catch a break – and their breath

For the first time since June, Microsoft's two browsers managed to hold onto their share of the browser market; the same could not be said of Firefox.

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Top browsers, January 2018

Browsers built by Microsoft and Mozilla jettisoned some of their precious user share in January, while Google's broke out of a months-long malaise by grabbing what its rivals lost, and then some.

According to California-based analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge - the estimated portion of all personal computer owners who ran those browsers - fell by half a percentage point to 16.5% in January.

After a one-month reprieve from losses - IE+Edge had climbed in December - Microsoft's browsers returned to their long-time pattern of decline. The 16.5% mark was the second-lowest for Microsoft's combined user share in the decade that Computerworld has recorded Net Applications' numbers.

Together, the two browsers ran on about 19% of all Windows PCs, or on slightly less than one in five systems. That was the lowest-ever share of Windows PCs for the pair and stood in stark contrast to the 52% they accounted for just two years ago.

January 2016 was a red-letter month for IE because it was then that Microsoft stopped serving security updates to most editions of its kingpin browser, forcing customers to upgrade in most instances to IE11. Many instead switched browsers. It was Microsoft's decision to retire non-IE11 editions that fueled the rise of Google's Chrome.

And Edge, the default browser for Windows 10, has not taken up IE's slack by any measure. Edge's own user share - less than 5% - meant that the browser ran on fewer than 14% of all Windows 10 machines in January, or less than one in every seven devices powered by the OS.

If IE's collapse has been Microsoft's biggest browser defeat, then the inability of Edge to capture more than a piddling part of the Windows 10 audience has been the company's second-largest failure. Simply put, Windows 10 users have rejected Edge.

Meanwhile, Mozilla's Firefox shed two-tenths of a percentage point, ending the month at 10.85%, that browser's lowest share since September 2016. The November overhaul, on which Mozilla has pinned great hope, has yet to boost the browser's user share, even though reviews of what the company calls "Firefox Quantum" have generally been upbeat.

Because browser user share is a classic zero-sum exercise - if one browser loses part of the available 100%, one or more others must gain - it was no surprise that Chrome picked up eight-tenths of a percentage point in January, the largest increase since the same month of 2017. Chrome accounted for 61.4% of last month's user share, according to Net Applications.

Chrome has been the biggest recipient, by far, of the dual decline of Microsoft's IE and Mozilla's Firefox. Google's browser is within striking distance of accounting for two-thirds of the world's user share, a mark it could reach by November based on trends over the last quarter.

The same trend line now forecasts that IE+Edge, as well as Firefox, will head in the other direction. Computerworld calculated that IE+Edge could slip below the 10% bar as soon as August, while Firefox will beat it there, with a shot at dropping under 10% in March.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients' websites. It then tallies the various browsers, accounting for the size of each country's online population to better estimate share in regions where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

Other data sources painted a picture that resembles Net Applications'.

Irish metrics company StatCounter pegged IE+Edge's January decline at a half percentage point to 11.4%, and a Firefox slide of four-tenths of a point, to 11.9%. Chrome, on the other hand, added 1.3 percentage points to its usage share - a different measurement than Net Applications' user share, and akin to activity - ending January with a remarkable 66%.

IE and Edge user share IDG

The user share of IE+Edge slipped in January, a return to the norm for Microsoft, which has seen its rule of the browser world overturned by a Chrome coup.

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