Top web browsers 2019: Chrome seesaws yet again

Google's Chrome browser gave up some of its recent gains in October, but those losses did little to erode its commanding position among browsers.

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Chrome last month continued its seesaw in user share, throwing away most of the gains it had made the month prior while remaining fully in charge of the browser market.

According to data published today by California analytics vendor Net Applications, Chrome's share for October dropped by 1.1 percentage points to 67.4%. It was the fourth straight time that Chrome shed some of its share the month following an increase of one point or more. In September, Chrome had recorded a boost of 1.3 points.

The up-down has not always resulted in a net gain for each months' pairings, and when increases have outweighed losses of the month previous, the upside has been small. That's why over the course of the past 12 months, Chrome has climbed by just one percentage point.

Yet the difference between Chrome, the browser leader, and the next in line - Microsoft's Double-mint twins of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge - was 54.9 points, nearer the high end of the 12-month range between 51.7 and 56.5. That metric shows that Chrome's position is solid. Very solid, in fact.

Computerworld now forecasts that Chrome will return to 68% shortly (within three months at the most) and crack 70% by June. Even if its seesaw keeps at it.

Firefox slips

One of the unanswered questions in Browser Land is whether Mozilla's Firefox can survive. Can the browser, which kicked off renewed competition in the space - when it launched in 2004, Microsoft's IE had eradicated all rivals - keep its head above the proverbial water, say, above the very-minor-browser marker of 5%?

Good question.

Firefox lost one-tenth of a percentage point during October, ending the month at 8.6%. Although that wasn't Firefox's nadir of the past 12 months, it was the third-lowest number during that period and the sixth-lowest overall (or at least since the browser crawled out of the single digits in early 2006).

It's almost painful to watch Firefox struggle to sustain its share, much less grow it. In October, the browser's user share was below the median for the past 12 months (9.1%) and significantly under the median for the 12-month span before that (November 2017-October 2018, 10.2%).

Although Mozilla continues to stress Firefox's privacy chops - the latest upgrade added tools that block social media networks' trackers - that has not resonated enough with potential users to bring large numbers to the browser.

By Net Applications' data, Firefox's near future looks weak, but not necessarily bleak. Using the browser's average movement over the last 12 months, Firefox should remain above 8% for the next year, dipping below that only in November 2020. But if the past six months are a better clue, Firefox is in trouble: That forecast would put the browser under 8% as soon as January, under 7% by June and below 5% as soon as December 2020.

(The difference in the two predictions? The six-month average contains three months of large, more-than-half-a-point losses, which dominated the total. Those three months were diluted in the 12-month average.)

How long will Microsoft maintain IE?

Microsoft's recovery from September's all-time browser low wasn't much of a come-back, but it was better than nothing. In October, the Redmond, Wash. company's browsers snatched back some of the share they lost the month before, adding four-tenths of a percentage point to up its share balance to almost 12.5%.

The firm's total was, as always, composed of two different browsers, IE and Edge. And the increase was neatly split between the pair, each adding about two-tenths of a percentage point to the kitty. IE climbed to 6.4%, while Edge edged up to 6.1%.

Windows 10's share of all operating systems climbed at almost the same rate, so Edge simply kept its share of Windows 10's browsers at the same 11.2% of September. That mark, remember, was the lowest of the year so far, but not a record low. (The latter would be the 10.9% in September 2018.)

Meanwhile, IE's increase translated into a slight boost in its share of all Windows browsers, ending October up two-tenths of a point to 7.3%. That IE's portion of all Windows browsers has fallen by about a fourth - a year-ago, the number was 10.6% - is proof of its fast fade among customers.

Within months, Microsoft will finalize its "full-Chromium" Edge, which will feature an integrated IE mode that replicates that browser for the corporate users who still need it - notably IE's ActiveX controls - to run aged web apps and obsolescing intranet sites. At some point after the new IE's debut, Microsoft will forcibly replace the old Edge on Windows 10 PCs (and likely push it onto the Windows 7 systems being serviced by the for-a-free Extended Support Release (ESR) after that OS's public retirement) with the new.

Computerworld has speculated that Microsoft will eventually purge IE from Windows machines and tell the few customers then still needing the browser to instead rely only on the mode inside Edge. That forecast has been driven by IE's quickly-declining share. A year from now, going by its performance over the past 12 months, IE will be run by less than 3.5% of all Windows users, just not enough to warrant a separate application.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, Apple's Safari gained half a percentage point for the second consecutive month, climbing to 4.8%, and Opera Software's browser stayed dropped a tad to 1.3%. Safari's increase came in the face of a dip in macOS, which lost about six-tenths of a percentage point in October. That drop in macOS - expected as it was because September's nearly-two percentage point leap was clearly not realistic - contributed to pushing Safari's share of Apple's operating system to 43.9%, the highest it's been since March 2018.

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 measure browser user activity.

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