Microsoft could lose No. 1 browser spot as soon as May

As declines continue -- February's was the largest ever -- IE slides toward the 40% mark

microsoft hangs on chart
Net Applications

Microsoft's browsers took a beating of historical proportions last month, losing user share at a rate that could put it in second place, behind Google, as early as May, new data signaled today.

The several editions of Internet Explorer (IE) and two versions of Edge lost a combined 2.1 percentage points of user share in February, the largest one-month decline for Microsoft in the 11 years of recorded statistics that Computerworld has compiled from metrics vendor Net Applications.

IE and Edge -- Net Applications dumps the latter's user share into the bucket labeled "IE" -- accounted for 44.8% of all browsers used to reach the Web last month. A year earlier, that number was 57.4%.

Microsoft's browsers dipped under the major milestone of 50% only in December, but if the user share drain stays on the pace set in the last three months, it will slip under the 40% bar sometime in May.

When changes in IE's user share over the last 12 months were used to model its fall, the under-40% mark occurred in July.

In either forecast, IE's plunge was mirrored by the rise of Google's Chrome, which is poised to replace Microsoft's browsers as the world's most-used in the same months that IE is projected to drop below the 40% mark.

Chrome ended February with a user share of 36.6%, up 1.5 percentage points from January and 11.9 points higher than 12 months earlier. Mozilla's Firefox gained three-tenths of a percentage point to climb back to 11.7%, about the same as a year ago, and Apple's Safari grew by two-tenths of a point to 4.9%.

Other sources of browser data echoed Net Applications' numbers.

The Digital Analytics Program (DAP) -- which collates visits to more than 4,000 websites on over 400 different domains maintained by U.S. government agencies -- also illustrated a decline by IE + Edge in February, and an increase by Chrome. DAP tagged IE + Edge as accounting for 22.6% of all traffic last month, down from January's 23.4%. Meanwhile, Chrome's numbers climbed from 41.9% in January to 44.1% last month.

Most of DAP's visits originate in the U.S., and it has long portrayed Chrome as the leading browser.

Computerworld has traced IE's defections to Microsoft's August 2014 announcement that users of older versions had to upgrade, in most cases, to IE11, by Jan. 12, 2016. Since the announcement, IE has lost 13.7 percentage points of user share, representing a 23% decline.

By forcing customers to upgrade to a newer version of IE -- or alternately, turn to Windows 10 and its default Edge -- Microsoft forced users to change browsers. That had a disastrous impact on IE's user share as people used the mandate to rethink their browser choice, and abandoned Microsoft's browsers for rivals', notably Chrome. Last month's precipitous decline in IE's user share and the significant increase in Chrome's, reflecting the first full month's data after the deadline, supported that theory.

But Chrome's rise can't be credited only to Microsoft's decision to drop support of older versions of IE. A net loss last month of 2.3 percentage points by IE11 shows that even those on a supported Microsoft browser have dumped it, largely for Chrome, according to Net Applications' numbers.

The upgrade-or-else deadline of Jan. 12 now is seven weeks in the past, but by Net Applications' numbers, more than a third of IE users remain on outdated versions that no longer receive security updates. The 18.2% of IE users running IE8, for example, are on a browser that Microsoft no longer patches; the same goes for more than three-fourths of the 11.8% stuck on IE9 and for virtually all of the 6.7% who ran IE10 last month.

Among IE's overall gloom, the bright spot was on Edge, the default browser for Windows 10: By Net Applications' count, Edge gained about nine-tenths of a percentage point of user share in February, the most since 10's debut last summer. Edge accounted for 3.9% of all browsers used last month, or approximately 8.8% of those created by Microsoft.

Copyright © 2016 IDG Communications, Inc.

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