Top web browsers 2019: Chrome rebounds, back to eating the world

Google's popular browser is now used by more than two-thirds of web surfers, based on data from Net Applications. Its gains in May came at the expense of Firefox and Internet Explorer.

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Top browsers, November 2018

Microsoft's browsers last month staved off decline for the first time since June, managing to hold on to their share of the market even as Mozilla watched more users desert Firefox.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, Internet Explorer's and Edge's share rallied in November, increasing by one-tenth of a percentage point to close the month at 13.9%. The boost to Microsoft's browser fortunes came entirely from the if-not-obsolete-then-certainly-creaky IE, which scratched back to 9.6%. Edge, the default for Windows 10 and the browser Microsoft has pinned hopes to, remained flat at 4.2%, the same ground it occupied in October.

The rise of IE was ironic, since Microsoft long ago demoted the browser, saying it was suitable only for the soon-to-be-retired Windows 7 and for Windows 10, as a legacy stop-gap. Microsoft stopped improving or enhancing the browser, specifically IE11, in early 2016. Since then, the Redmond, Wash. company has only serviced the browser with security updates.

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people run to reach the websites of Net Applications' clients. The firm then tallies the visitor sessions rather than count users, as it once did. In plainer terms, Net Applications' data represents user activity.

IE and Edge, on the edge

Microsoft's browsers may have kept heads above water in November, but their past performance signals that the effort will be short lived.

Since January 2015, IE's and Edge's increases have been brief: no longer than two consecutive months. Three of the four post-2015 periods of increases have been but a single month, with declines returning the next.

The only plus for Microsoft is that in the last 12 months, five have seen increases (including November's). That's the most positive 12-month stretch since 2013, when IE recovered some share from a years'-long downturn. The 5-in-12 may hint that Microsoft's browsers may be ready to stabilize, rather than disappear entirely.

However, the latter remains a distinct possibility. Even with the five months' of increases, IE + Edge shed 2.4 percentage points in the last 12 and 2.2 points in just the last six months. And at the current average monthly movement, Microsoft's browsers will slip under 13% in March and fall below 12% in August 2019. A year from now, the browsers could be in the psychologically-dangerous 10% range.

Firefox falls below 9%

Net Applications pegged Firefox's user share at 8.96% for November, a three-tenths of a percentage point decline from October. It was the first time that the open-source browser ended the month with less than 9% since May 2016, during a stretch when Firefox flirted with disaster.

Computerworld's forecast - calculated using Firefox's 12-month average - now puts the browser below 8% in March and beneath the 7% comatose bar by August.

Firefox has been near death, and recovered, before: In mid-2016, the browser plummeted to 7.7%, yet by year's end had climbed back to 12.2%. But this latest string of user desertions must concern Mozilla: Firefox has been under 10% for six out of the last seven months. That's not happened since the browser was on the upswing in late 2005 and early 2006.

Elsewhere in the November data, Google's Chrome lost nine-tenths of a percentage point, ending the month at 65.6%. The loss was Chrome's largest one-month drop since August 2013.

It's unclear whether the substantial decline forecasts that Chrome's explosive growth is nearing an end. (Chrome gained an astounding 24.1 points of user share in 2016, for example.) Past dips have been temporary, for one thing; for another, Chrome is still up five percentage points over the last 12 months.

Computerworld's forecast remains rosy for Google's browser: Using the 12-month average, Chrome should crack the two-thirds mark in January and reach 68% in April.

Apple's Safari stayed flat at 3.7% in November. During the month, 38.5% of all Mac owners ran Safari, a slight improvement over October. (Another browser that runs on a single platform - Edge - accounted for only 11.1% of all Windows 10 users' activity, a record low.)

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