Top web browsers 2018: Microsoft's IE and Edge shed share as Chrome gains

Browsers from Microsoft and Mozilla lost some of their user share in January, with Google's Chrome grabbing what its rivals lost.

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%.

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.

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.

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.

Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge browsers tumbled last month in user share as the once-universal programs ran on just one in every six personal computers worldwide.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of IE and Edge - an estimate of the world's personal computer owners who ran that browser - plummeted by 3.3 percentage points to end November at 16.3%. The decline was the largest ever for Microsoft's browsers.

Mozilla's Firefox also stumbled badly last month, losing nearly 2 of its hard-won percentage points, slipping to 11.4%, its lowest user share since October 2016.

These numbers, and more importantly the fact that IE+Edge's and Firefox's numbers sank to such a degree, is striking. But it was as much a data reset by Net Applications as proof of massive user desertions.

As it has periodically, Net Applications has reworked how it tracks browsers, operating systems and other metrics of interest to online businesses. In a message appended to a refreshed analytics display, Net Applications explained that it had rewritten its "entire collection and aggregation infrastructure to address" out-of-whack data.

The culprit? Bots, said Net Applications. These software-based tools often are deployed by criminals, who program their automated scripts to mimic human online behavior, perhaps in an attempt to cash in on an ad click fraud scam.

"Bots can cause significant skewing of data," admitted Net Applications. "We have seen situations where traffic from certain large countries is almost completely bot traffic. In other countries, ad fraudsters generate traffic that spoofs certain technologies in order to generate high-value clicks. Or, they heavily favor a particular browser or platform."

While some may want to blame the large shifts in browser user share on Net Applications' scouring its data of bot traffic, that would be the wrong move. "Please note: This dataset is separate from and replaces the legacy data," the company said, making clear that it had gone back into past data too, not just November's, and eradicated the numbers it ascribed to bots.

Under the new methodology, for example, IE+Edge in October was 16%, or 3.6 points lower than Net Applications called the pair using the older, bots-plagued data. Using the new-only data, IE+Edge actually edged up (no pun intended) by about two-tenths of a percentage point. Likewise, Firefox was at 11.7% in October under the new scheme, but 13.1% under the old. (Firefox's drop, then, was about three-tenths of a percentage point during November.)

Assuming that the new methodology cleaned out all or most of the dodgy bot-driven traffic from Net Application's data, the bottom line is that the numbers now portray IE+Edge, and to a lesser extent, Firefox, in less flattering lights. Microsoft's browsers have deteriorated to a point unthinkable just two years ago, when they ran on more than half the world's personal computers. And Firefox's climb back from a near-death experience in 2016 has not been as impressive as the data once showed.

Also of interest were the new data points for Edge and IE calculated against only Windows personal computers. Because both browsers run only on Windows devices, it has been possible to surmise their share on that platform alone. Of all Windows 10 users, just 13.2%, a record low, ran Edge in November (Edge only runs on Windows 10). As recently as March, Edge's share of Windows 10 had been around 22%.

IE's share of 18.4% of all Windows PCs was slightly better than Edge's, but like its successor, IE's November mark was an all-time low. At the start of 2016, IE's Windows-only share was a more respectable 28.5%.

Bottom line: Net Applications' scrubbed data painted a picture of Windows 10 users shunning Edge, and IE users renouncing the browser in record numbers.

Apple's Safari also shed user share last month, sliding six-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9%. Meanwhile, the king of the hill, Google's Chrome, ended November with a user share of 60.6%, up about eight-tenths of a point. It was the first time that Chrome broke the 60% tape in Net Applications' tracking.

Because browser share is a zero-sum game, the downgrading of Microsoft's, Mozilla's and Apple's browsers meant others experienced growth. In Net Applications' case, the cleaned-up data and revised website listed a slew of previously-unreported browsers, including several popular outside the U.S. Among those were QQ, the browser created by Tencent, China's largest web company (with a user share of 1.8%) and Yandex, which belongs to the same-named Russian search firm (0.6%). Others now on Net Applications' list ranged from Opera (1.4%) to Vivaldi (0.1%).

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.

IDG/Data: Net Applications

Microsoft's browsers — Internet Explorer and Edge — were used by just 16% of the world's online users of personal computers last month, or on about one in every six systems. The once mighty Microsoft could soon be eclipsed by Mozilla and that open-source developer's Firefox.

Microsoft's Edge last month sank to its lowest-ever user share, with less than 16% of Windows 10 users running the browser during October.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of Edge — an estimate of the world's personal computer owners who ran that browser — fell by six-tenths of a percentage point, ending October at 4.6%. The decline was the largest ever for Edge, and set the browser back to the user share spot it last occupied in April 2016.

More notable was Edge's usage when calculated as a percentage of Windows 10. (Edge is the default browser for Microsoft's OS; likewise, Edge only runs on Windows 10.) Of all Windows 10 users, just 15.7%, a record low, ran Edge in October. As recently as March, Edge's share of Windows 10 had been around 22%.

Edge's share of Windows 10, which started off at 36% when the operating system debuted, has steadily fallen since then, wrapping up 2015 at 28% and ending 2016 at 22%.

If every Windows 10 user had stuck with Edge, the browser would now have a user share of 29.3%, or more than six times its mark. Instead, the trend line has shown that the more PCs that run Windows 10, the poorer Edge has performed.

Simply put, Edge never caught on among Windows 10 users. And at this point, it may be in an unrecoverable position. It's hard to envision a strategy that would successfully coax significant numbers to Edge unless Microsoft were willing to take such desperate measures - like barring all other browsers from the OS - that it would invite regulatory intervention.

A user share increase by Internet Explorer (IE) more than compensated for the decline in Edge, with the combined figure for the two edging up by three-tenths of a point to 19.7%. The boost was the first positive move by Microsoft's browsers since December 2014.

Short-term user share changes are often inscrutable, but the three-tenths of a percentage point increase of IE+Edge could be a partial recovery in data collection sanity after the stunning 1.9-point plummet in September. The next month or two will either confirm that that month's free-fall was real or contest its accuracy.

Because browser share is a zero-sum game, Microsoft's uptick meant someone had to face shrinkage. Apple's Safari took the brunt, falling by 0.7 of a percentage points to 4.4%. Mozilla's Firefox and Google's Chrome added 0.3 of a point and 0.2 of a point, respectively, stretching to 13.1% and 59.8%. For Firefox, the October mark was its highest in three years. Meanwhile, Chrome continued to sneak up on 60% but again failed to top that bar.

At the pace of the last six months, Chrome should pass, albeit barely, 60% by year's end.

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.

IDG/Gregg Keizer

Edge slipped again, with fewer than one in every six Windows 10 users running the browser during October. (Data: Net Applications.)

Microsoft's browsers suffered another big setback last month, losing so much user share that they fell beneath the 20% bar.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge — an estimate of the world's personal computer owners who ran those browsers — plummeted by 1.9 percentage points, ending at a combined 19.3%. The downturn was the largest since October 2016.

September's decline was previewed the previous month, when IE+Edge lost nearly a full percentage point after a five-month stretch when the browsers' slump had been relatively small.

Most notable was that the browsers' combined share dropped below 20%, a milestone of sorts, albeit a negative one, in their decline, which began in earnest a year and a half ago. It was then that Microsoft forced Windows users to upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer supported by their version of Windows — which meant IE11 for most users — or run Edge on Windows 10.

Rather than nudging customers to upgrade IE or adopt Edge, the mandate prompted millions to abandon Microsoft's browsers and choose alternatives, for the most part Google's Chrome. The decision, which Microsoft described in mid-2014 as necessary for security reasons as well as to ensure compatibility with services like Office 365, turned out to be among the company's most disastrous. Since the upgrade order went into effect in January 2016, IE has shed nearly two-thirds of its user share, tumbling from 48.6% to last month's 19.3%.

Just over one in five Windows personal computers — 21% — ran IE or Edge in September. (The difference between the 19.3%, which represented IE+Edge's user share of all personal computers, and the 21% of just Windows machines, was due to the latter powering 90.6% of all systems, not 100% of them.)

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Nor has Edge taken up enough of the slack as IE's share has plunged. Last month, Edge ran on a record-low 17.7% of Windows 10 personal computers. Edge's share has diminished since Windows 10's debut — it accounted for 39% of all Windows 10 in mid-2015 — even as the operating system's share has grown dramatically.

If every Windows 10 user had stuck with Edge, the OS's default browser, Edge would have a user share of 29.1%, or more than five times its actual mark. Instead, the more PC owners who run Windows 10, the poorer Edge has performed. To Computerworld, that signals an irredeemable loss for Microsoft; it's unlikely the firm will be able to coax customers to return Edge to pride of place on Windows 10.

Since browser share is a zero-sum game, Microsoft's loss meant rivals won. Apple's Safari climbed by 1.2 percentage points to 5.1%, its highest mark in more than two years, and Mozilla's Firefox added six-tenths of a percentage point, climbing to 12.9%, the largest share that browser has enjoyed in nearly three years. And Chrome edged up three-tenths of a point to 59.6%, ending a three-month slowdown in growth.

Net Applications estimates user share by sniffing the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients' websites, then tallying the various browsers and operating systems. It also weights each country's data by the size of its online population to account for locations, like China, where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

IDG / Net Applications

Microsoft's browsers — Internet Explorer and Edge — were used by just 19% of the world's online users last month, according to new data. The browser's decline, precipitous since the start of 2016, shows no sign of abating. (Data: Net Applications.)

August browser share numbers

Drip. Drip. Drip.

That was the sound Microsoft's browsers made last month as they leaked user share. Yet again.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge -- an estimate of the world's personal computer owners who ran those browsers -- slid by nine-tenths of a percentage point, ending at a combined 22.2%. The August decline was the largest since January.

It can be difficult to accurately spot short-term trends with Net Applications' data: At times, changes seem more an artifact of the company's methodology. IE+Edge's latest plunge may signal a renewal of losses after a five-month slow-down in the desertion rate, or it could be simply a hiccup.

Overall, however, Microsoft's fortunes remain dark in the browser race. While the share loss in the eight months of 2017 has been just over half that of same period of 2016 -- illustrating a slowing of the bleeding -- IE+Edge has shed almost a full percentage point each month so far this year. If that reduction rate keeps up, the browsers will vanish before this time in 2019.

That's very unlikely to happen.

Even so, Microsoft must stare at browser share reports and wonder when the bad news will end. And where IE and Edge will end up as well.

IE, of course, has been pushed aside by Microsoft, which has assigned it legacy status, with a concomitant no-further-development policy. Internet Explorer will live on, in the form of IE11, even after the retirement of Windows 7 in early 2020, but Microsoft has already dug the browser's grave, if not dropped it in.

Microsoft's bigger problem is the lack of enthusiasm for Edge, the default browser in Windows 10, the forever OS that may never expire. During August, just 20% of all Windows 10 users ran Edge as their primary browser. Edge's share has headed downhill since the operating system's mid-2015 debut - when it accounted for 39% of all Windows 10 - even as the latter's share has grown leaps and bounds.

The more people run Windows 10, the less they collectively like Edge. That's not a good sign for the browser's future.

Because the struggle for share is zero-sum, Microsoft's loss again meant a win for some rivals. Apple's Safari climbed by two-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9%, and Mozilla's Firefox stayed in place, while the generic "Others" category grew by nearly a full point, largely fueled by a big bump in what Net Applications dubbed "Proprietary or Undetectable" browsers.

Google's Chrome, which has taken in most of the IE+Edge refugees, fell by two-tenths of a percentage point in August, ending at 59.4%, or back at the number it held in May.

Net Applications estimates user share by sniffing the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients' websites, then tallying the various browsers and operating systems. It also weights each country's data by the size of its online population to account for areas, such as China, where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

IDG/Data: Net Applications

IE's and Edge's declines accelerated again in August, dropping nearly a full percentage point. Whatever Microsoft is going to do to save its browsers, it better do it fast.

July browser share numbers

Microsoft has to take solace from any source it can as its share of the browser market continues to dribble down the drain.

To wit: Even as Microsoft's browser share again declined during July, at least it was a smaller contraction than of late, perhaps giving those in Redmond hope that the worst is behind them and at some point the downward lines on their charts will flatten.

According to data from U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge -- an estimate of the proportion of the world's personal computer owners that ran those browsers -- dipped by three-tenths of a percentage point, ending at a combined 22.2%. July's loss was the smallest since March, and the second smallest since December 2014.

At times, browser share data is too fickle for illustrating short-range trends, so the five-month slow-down in IE+Edge declines could be an artifact of the metrics company's methodology. Or it may be the strongest signal yet that Microsoft's browsers may have a share basement beyond which they won't sink.

Exhibit A for the latter: For the first seven months of this year, IE+Edge lost four percentage points, representing a 15% reduction from their Jan. 1 state. Compare that to 2016, when in the same length of time, IE+Edge bled nearly 14 percentage points, equal to a decline of 29%, or more than twice as much as 2017.

Microsoft must get its victories, or even less-drastic defeats, where it can.

Not surprisingly, the slowing of Microsoft's browser share deterioration was tempered by a continuation of a troubling trend for Edge, the default in Windows 10. Last month, just 20% of all Windows 10 users ran Edge as their primary browser, down from 24% a year earlier. Edge's one-in-five share of Windows 10 is the browser's lowest ever showing.

Because the share skirmish is zero-sum, Microsoft's losses translated into rival browser makers' gains. When the former slides less, competitors' growth does as well. Most affected was Google's Chrome, which has been the biggest beneficiary of IE+Edge's nosedive.

Chrome remained virtually flat last month, increasing its share by just one-tenth of a percentage point to post 59.8% for July. Since the start of the year, Chrome has climbed by three points, representing a 6% growth rate. In the first seven months of 2016, Chrome added nearly 19 points to its share, equal to a hike of 58%.

Mozilla's Firefox was the winner for July, putting another three-tenths of a percentage point on its share to reach 12.3%, the browser's highest number in almost three years. Although Firefox currently controls less than half the share it did at its late 2009-early 2010 peak, its recovery from a near-death experience a year ago has been remarkable. In August 2016, Firefox slumped to 7.7% and seemed in danger of vanishing altogether.

Net Applications estimates user share by sniffing the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients' websites, then tallying the various browsers and operating systems. It also weights each country's data by the size of its online population to account for areas, such as China, where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

IDG/Data: Net Applications

IE's and Edge's declines slowed, as did Chrome's gains during July, leaving Google's browser on the verge of grabbing two-thirds of the global browser share. 

Top web browsers 2017: June numbers show Microsoft's Edge strategy fails

Microsoft's browsers in June 2017 continued their free fall, again shedding a significant amount of user share, an analytics company reported today.

According to data from California-based Net Applications, the user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge -- an estimate of the proportion of the world's personal computer owners who ran those browsers -- fell by nearly a full percentage point in May, ending at a combined 23.2%.

May's decline was the largest since January, and could signal a resumption of the precipitous plunge IE and Edge experienced in 2016, when the browsers lost more than 22 percentage points, almost half their total share at the start of that year, and ceded the top spot to Google's Chrome.

Microsoft's problem, as it has been since mid-2015, stemmed from two factors: A persistent decline in the demoted-to-legacy IE, which was expected after the launch of Windows 10, and the inability, to put it mildly, for Edge, 10's default browser, to make up the difference. The second was certainly not in Microsoft's projections.

In the last 11 months, IE's share dropped by 41%, while Edge's increased by only 11%. On its own, IE has been under the 20% mark since January, and fell to a new low of 17.6% in May. Meanwhile, Edge stayed flat for the fourth month in a row at 5.6%. All of those ingredients cooked up a debacle.

Projections of the IE + Edge combination hint at an even uglier future. IE and Edge could fall under 20% as soon as this month, and likely by no later than December, according to the 12- and three-month trends in the data.

Although Microsoft has aggressively touted Edge, the effort has not yet paid off. Last month, just 21% of all Windows 10 users ran Edge as their primary browser, down from 29% a year earlier. Some analysts, however, expect Edge to turn toward a larger share of Windows 10 once enterprises seriously start migrating corporate PCs to the new OS, and, more importantly, when they divest themselves of the legacy web apps and intranet sites that require workers to run IE alongside a "modern" browser, like Edge.

May's biggest beneficiary was Chrome, which added four-tenths of a percentage point to its user share, reaching a record 59.4%. Computerworld's forecast -- again using the trends in Net Applications' data -- puts Chrome over the 60% bar by August at the latest.

Mozilla's Firefox, which in the first quarter of 2017 lost four-tenths of a percentage point, recouped half of that last month, climbing to 12%, its highest mark since December.

Net Applications estimates user share by sniffing the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients' websites, then tallying the various browsers and operating systems. It also weights each country's data by the size of its online population to account for areas, such as China, where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

Data: Net Applications/IDG

Microsoft has pinned great hopes on Edge, its latest browser, but nearly two years after its launch, just one in five Windows 10 users run it.