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, December 2017

Microsoft's browsers in December recouped some of the user share they'd sloughed off in November when an analytics vendor changed how it portrays the battle for online hearts and minds.

According to Net Applications of Aliso Viejo, Calif., the user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge - an estimate of the fraction of the world's personal computer owners who ran those browsers - bumped up seven-tenths of a percentage point to end 2017 at 17%.

Although the uptick recovered only a fifth of the massive loss from the month prior, when Net Applications scrubbed fraudulent bots from its data, Microsoft was likely pleased with even that small bit of good news about its browsers. IE and Edge, the former in particular, have been on an extended slide for several years.

The bot-free traffic of Net Applications pegged the total of 2017's IE+Edge downturn at just 1.3%, a loss of only three-tenths of a point. December's boost was a big reason for the relatively small decline during last year.

Microsoft, of course, will take anything it can get at this point, having handed its browser crown - worn since the 1990s when it unseated Netscape Navigator - to Google's Chrome. By other measurements, notably the data acquired by Irish metrics firm StatCounter that was used to generate browser usage share, IE+Edge was already in third place, at 11.9% behind Mozilla's Firefox and its 12.2%. (StatCounter's usage share reflects activity, since it tallies page views, meaning that ultra-energetic users may skew results.)

In Net Applications' numbers, Firefox remained the third-place browser, with a 11% user share, down four-tenths of a percentage point from November.

Firefox, whose maker recently overhauled the browser, also took it on the chin when Net Applications scratched out bot traffic. In the new, cleansed data, Firefox's user share dropped 3.5 points in 2017, representing a 24% decline. That was the largest decrease among the world's top browsers.

Chrome led the pack in December with a user share of 60.6%, virtually the same as in November, while Apple's Safari climbed two-tenths of a percentage point to 4%.

IE+Edge's improving number also affected another important data point: The percentage of Windows 10 users who rely on Edge ticked up slightly in December to 14%, an eight-tenths of a point increase. The gain put Edge's share on all Windows 10 PCs at the highest mark since July 2017. Add IE, and Microsoft's browsers ran on a combined 19.1% of all Windows PCs in December, also an increase from the month before.

But under the best circumstances, it will take months for IE+Edge to establish a clear trend of growth. Of course, the Net Applications numbers for December may have been just a fluke, a blip on the data radar. Microsoft's browsers have seemed to stabilize after extended periods of decline in the past, for instance, only to resume their slide toward obscurity.

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.

ie and edge user share in dec 2017 IDG/Data: Net Applications

The user share of IE+Edge ticked up slightly in December 2017, a welcome sign to Microsoft, which has watched its lead evaporate over the last two years.

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