Top web browsers 2019: Chrome swallows more share

Its biggest monthly user-share gain in three years pushes Google’s browser ever closer to the 70% mark.

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Top browsers, April 2019

Chrome last month lost a record amount of user share, a measurement of browser activity, just one month after reaching a new all-time high.

Down. Up. Up. Down. Tracking the month-by-month movement of browsers' user share can be trying when the data doesn't show a crystal-clear short-term trend line. Does this mean that Chrome is poised to plummet? Doubtful. Could it? Certainly. Nothing stays on top forever.

Just ask Microsoft.

According to Internet analytics vendor Net Applications, Chrome's user share plunged 2.2 percentage points in April to 65.6%, its lowest mark since October. The fall was over half a point more than the previous record, set in August 2013, when Chrome accounted for a mere 16% of all user share and Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) was the beast of browsers with 57.6%.

Even that massive drop-off, however, didn't erase the past year's gains by Google's browser. For the last 12 months, Chrome remained up four percentage points, the most of any browser by far. History is also in Chrome's favor: The last three times Chrome lost user share, the following month it added a percentage point or more of share to its total, enough to erase the earlier decline.

The plunge did put a crimp in Chrome's bid to break the 70% barrier. Where last month's forecast pegged the browser making that mark by August of this year, the latest calculation - based on the 12-month average - puts 70% down on the calendar for June 2020.

Firefox scratches above 10%

In the zero-sum browser game - one's losses means another's gains - Mozilla Firefox was one of April's winners. The open-source browser gained a full percentage point, ending the month with 10.2%. The total was Firefox's highest since March 2018 and the first above 10 points since June that year.

Firefox has given its makers stretches of optimism in the past, but those have been brief, a month, two at consecutive at the most. It's been nearly two years since Firefox has had a sustained period of growth (five months, from March until July 2017). In plainer terms, that means it would be smart to hold any applause until Firefox demonstrates it can maintain some kind of growth.

Computerworld's newest forecast for Firefox predicts the browser's share will remain above 10 points through this year and at least halfway into next. It's up to the browser's engineers and designers to make that happen by continuing the modernization strategy they adopted in late 2017 with the version dubbed "Quantum."

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, the combined user share of Microsoft's IE and Edge also rose, climbing 1.4 points to 14%. The one-month increase was the largest-ever for Microsoft in Computerworld's nearly 12 years of recorded data, and the month-end total was the highest since September. Both were likely welcomed in Redmond, which has had to swallow months of data that painted its browsers as sad sacks on the way to oblivion.

IE sees an uptick, too

Look closer at the numbers, though, and Microsoft's sunny skies turn overcast. Most of the user share increase - 70% of it - came from IE, which even for Microsoft is a dead end. The company halted all IE development long ago after it relegated the browser to legacy status. IE is maintained with monthly security updates, but it will never be better than it is right now.

(Windows' increase in user share - the OS climbed by about seven-tenths of a percentage point - also assisted in IE's uptick, giving it a bigger pie to slice.)

Microsoft's one bright spot was Edge, the browser Microsoft plans to transform with the Chromium rendering and JavaScript engines. Not only did Edge gain user share - up about three-tenths of a percentage point in April, reaching 5.5% - but it boosted its share of all Windows 10 PCs. On the latter, Edge accounted for 12.5% of the browser activity on Windows 10, an increase of six-tenths of a percentage point, making April the fourth straight month where that critical metric was in the black.

In April, Safari dropped a tenth of a point - about what it had gained in March - to lower Apple's browser to 3.6%. Safari's smaller share, though, was due to an even bigger fall in macOS' user share last month. Because Safari runs only on Apple's platforms, the browser's position is largely decided by the operating system, although it, like Edge and IE, has seen the share of its native OS erode. The difference in declines meant Safari actually ran on a greater percentage of macOS systems in April than in March; April's Safari share of macOS was 38.2%, a percentage point increase.

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.

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