Top web browsers 2019: Chrome dumps user share

It was a good month for Mozilla's Firefox browser, which is at its highlest level of use in a year, and for the Microsoft IE/Edge combo. The user share for the two browsers jumped 1.4 points.

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Top browsers, March 2019

After a short pause earlier this year to their usage slide, Microsoft's browsers last month resumed their expected-by-now decline.

According to California-based web metrics company Net Applications, Internet Explorer's (IE) and Edge's March combined user share dropped to 12.5%, a half-percentage-point decline. The decrease entirely erased the February uptick. March's fall was tied to IE, as the legacy browser shed nine-tenths of a percentage point of its user share to end the month at 7.3%, a new low. Meanwhile, Edge grew by four-tenths of a point, to 5.2%, its highest mark since August 2017.

The gap between IE and Edge — just over 2 percentage points — was the narrowest ever, highlighting IE's inevitable future as a browser doomed to extinction.

Interestingly, IE's downturn wasn't coupled to a dip in Windows' fortunes, as the operating system actually scored one of its relatively rare increases. The bottom line: IE's usage portion among all Windows PCs — a more accurate measure of its position, as IE runs only on Windows — dropped a full point in March, sliding to 8.4%.

That number has been in decline, of course, just as has IE's and Edge's combined share. But IE is a special case, as Microsoft has stopped development — it's as good as it'll get — and maintains it only as a backstop for customers, enterprises in large part, who need it to run creaky web apps and display frozen-in-amber intranet websites.

A year ago, IE accounted for nearly twice its March 2019 user share. But the old browser fell below the double-digit bar in December and never recovered. That's why, even though Microsoft has pledged to support IE11 indefinitely, it's easy to imagine a day when the Redmond, Wash. company pulls the plug.

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 the visitor sessions rather than count users, as it once did. In other words, Net Applications' data represents user activity.

Edge runs to keep up

Although Edge added to its user share last month, the browser was running to stay in place.

Because its four-tenths of a percentage point gain was matched by a 3.3-point increase by Windows 10, Edge's portion of all Windows 10 personal computers remained stuck at 11.9%, the same as in February.

In other words, while Edge's usage increased, it came from the boost in Windows 10 usage, not from a sudden affection for the much-maligned browser. On the plus side, at least Edge's share of all Windows 10 PCs didn't fall, something it's been in a bad habit of doing.

Edge as it now exists is a dead browser walking because Microsoft has committed to retooling it with technologies borrowed from Chromium, the open-source project that feeds into Chrome, Opera and other browsers. But Microsoft needs Edge to stay alive long enough for the transition to take place; if Edge's importance to Windows 10 users falls much further — when it's the default, for Pete's sake — how can it fare when it's more-or-less a clone of Chrome and the real thing already has a headlock on Windows devices?

Whither Firefox?

Firefox suffered a second straight loss, dropping a tenth of a point to close March at 9.3%, around where it had been back in October 2018.

Mozilla's browser doesn't seem to know whether it's up or down any given month, but it has seemingly settled into a spot that's neither terribly encouraging for its makers nor depressing enough that its hardcore users rush to ditch it.

Firefox's user share was below the 10% mark in 10 of the last 12 months. The average monthly user share over that year-long stretch was 9.6%, the median 9.7%. Those numbers meant that Computerworld's forecast — as always, based on the 12-month average change in user share — said Firefox will remain in the 8% to 9% range through the rest of this year and into early 2020.

It may not be what Mozilla would like to see, but it's not the dismal picture of Microsoft's browsers' much steeper decline.

Elsewhere, rolling-in-riches Chrome added a full percentage point to its user share, claiming 67.9% as its end mark for March. Chrome's place was a new record for Google's browser, only reinforcing its victory over the web. (And contrary to musings a month ago, "peak-Chrome" doesn't look to be in sight.)

Chrome's 12-month average hints that the browser will crack 69% in June and 70% in August, an accelerated schedule compared to past months' calculations.

In March, Apple's Safari recovered some of the share it misplaced in February, climbing a tenth of a point to 3.7%, which was, coincidentally, its 12-month average. Safari's larger share, however, was likely due to an even larger boost to macOS user share during March. (Safari last month was used by 37.2% of all systems running macOS, an increase of half a percentage point over February's number.) Because Safari runs only on Apple's platforms, the browser's position is largely decided by the prevalence of the operating system.

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