Top web browsers 2019: Microsoft's browser share falls to record low

While Microsoft's browsers lost ground in September, Firefox managed another small gain. But the big winner continues to be Google's Chrome, which dominates the browser market.

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Top browsers, July 2019

Chrome again jumped in user share, adding the most in a single month since its 2016 heyday, when Google took advantage of a disastrous Microsoft decision to claim the top spot.

According to web analytics company Net Applications, Chrome's July user share climbed by 2.3 percentage points to end the month at 68.6%, a record for Google's browser. The month's increase was the largest since August 2016, at the tail end of an eight-month tsunami that swept Microsoft from its decades-old perch.

In five of the past seven months, Chrome has held more than two-thirds of global browser share, a statement to its grip on the market. The only extant browser that has accounted for such a large portion of the world's web activity? Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), which a decade ago was as dominant as Chrome is today.

But Microsoft deliberately pulled the plug in the IE bathtub and within months watched its lead swirl down a drain. In mid-2014, the Redmond, Wash. company told Windows users that they would have to upgrade to the newest-available IE for the OS running their PCs. The order scratched a year of support from IE7, four years from IE8 and IE9, and seven years from IE10. (At the time, IE8 was the most popular version of the browser.) Only IE11 survived with support intact.

But if Microsoft expected an uptake of IE11, it was sorely disappointed. After the mandate went into effect in January 2016 — when more than half of all those running a Microsoft browser were forced to switch — a stunning decline began. In the first eight months of 2016, Microsoft's global browser share plummeted 16 percentage points, representing a loss of about a third of its total. During the same stretch, Chrome gained 21.6 percentage points, sprinting from 32% to 54%. Computerworld has long maintained that when faced with an upgrade of one sort or another — IE8 to IE11 or IE to Chrome — millions upon millions picked the latter.

In any case, IE never recovered, and Chrome has never looked back. Instead, Google's browser has angled to eat the world. According to its 12-month average user share change, Chrome will account for more than 70% of all browser share by the end of the year. By the end of 2020, that number will approach 75%.

Firefox feels like it's slipping away

Firefox shed user share again in July, making for the third consecutive month of losses. Mozilla's browser dropped half a percentage point, falling to 8.3%, a mark not far above its record low of 7.7%, which it recorded three years ago.

Although Firefox has had several three-month periods where it lost user share, the 1.9-point total decline of the latest was the largest since a 2.3-point drop between November 2017 and January 2018.

As Computerworld has pointed out before, Firefox has had a tough time the last two years. Every once in a while, the browser posts a positive number, but those gains are always erased. Over the last 15 months, for example, Firefox reached 10% or more just twice, most recently in April. But then May, June and July came and washed Firefox near the 8% bar.

Firefox's prognosis remains dire. In the last six months, the browser gave up 1.9 percentage points of user share, a depressing amount for an application that has no fat to begin with. Computerworld's latest forecast puts Firefox under 8% by October and contends that the browser will flirt with a sub-7% share by July 4, 2020.

Mozilla has banked on privacy as Firefox's edge over rivals. But it's also recently trumpeted enterprise manageability, likely hoping for some adoption in organizations apprehensive about Chrome's connection to Google, and the latter's reputation as a data collector and monitor of online behavior. Something had better work for Firefox, or it could easily become a boutique browser forever stuck in the low single digits.

Good luck with that Edge thing

Meanwhile, Microsoft's browsers — IE and Edge — were also down for July.

The combined user share of IE+Edge slipped by one-tenth of a percentage point to 13.2%. Over the past several months, Microsoft's browsers have alternately climbed and fallen, often taking one step forward followed by two steps back. Over the past six months, for example, Microsoft has added seven-tenths of a point to its user share bank; but during the past 12 months, it was down 2.1 points.

The July downturn was on Edge's shoulders: Microsoft's newest browser lost two-tenths of a point, slumping to 5.8%. Only a curious increase in IE by about three-fourths that amount kept Redmond's losses down. (At this point, how is IE collecting new users?) Amazingly, IE, with a user share of 7.4%, continued to tally more user activity than Edge.

Edge — the current Edge — accounted for just 11.9% of all Windows-based browsing activity, a significant slip from the month prior, caused by Edge going down and Windows 10 going, well, up in spades.

Neither of Microsoft's browsers are going to set any growth records. In fact, by the IE+Edge 12-month average, they'll continue to contract. At the end of 2019, the combined user share will have dropped to 12%; a year from now, they could account for just 11% of all share.

Microsoft has its work cut out for it in reclaiming Edge from the morgue.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, Apple's Safari grew by a tiny tad to 3.4% and Opera Software's eponymous browser slid a small bit to 1.4%. The only silver lining for either was Safari's share of all macOS-powered personal computers — 37.9% — ending up setting a three-month record.

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

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