Top web browsers 2019: Edge edges up

The Microsoft browser has gained some ground during the last six months, but remains in the dust behind Google Chrome.

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Top browsers, December 2018

By the time Microsoft manages to refit its Edge browser with Chrome's engines, there might not be much of an Edge there.

Microsoft's browsers - Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge - jettisoned the most user share in over a year last month, falling to a record low. Meanwhile, Edge's share of all Windows 10 PCs, a metric Computerworld views as the most accurate reflection of user acceptance, also dropped to a new low.

According to web analytics company Net Applications, IE's and Edge's combined share plunged by 1.5 percentage points to end 2018 at 12.4%. The decline was the largest since September 2017, excepting a larger share sell-off two months later when Net Applications purged its data of fraudsters' bots. Most of the drop-off was due to users fleeing IE; the obsolete browser lost 1.3 percentage points all by itself, slumping to 8.3 percentage points. Edge shed slightly more than one-tenth of a point, more-or-less tying its former record low, first set in September 2018.

The continued deterioration of IE's position was expected, most of all by Microsoft, which three years ago sidelined the browser, telling customers it was useful only on some Windows 7 PCs and even fewer Windows 10 systems, where it was nothing more than a sop to legacy requirements. Microsoft halted all development on IE in early 2016 and since then has only serviced the browser with patches to block newly-reported vulnerabilities.

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

Edge, the choice of just 10%

Last month, Microsoft announced it would recreate Edge using the same rendering and JavaScript engines that drive Google's Chrome. By adopting the results of the open-source Chromium project, Microsoft said, it would "create better web compatibility for our customers." The company said nothing about Edge's dismal position as an afterthought on its sole-supported OS.

By Net Applications' numbers, Edge in December accounted for just 10.4% of the browser user share on Windows 10, a decline of seven-tenths of a percentage point from the month prior and the lowest ever in the three-and-a-half years since 10's launch.

The decline was exacerbated by a one-two punch: Edge's drop in absolute numbers and the growth of Windows 10 (by 1.1 percentage points, to 39.2% of all personal computers and 45.5% of all PCs running Windows). The combination magnified the small decline in absolute share when calculated as a portion of all Windows 10.

That's been Edge's problem all along. Growth, when it occurred, never kept pace with Windows 10's. And when that growth slowed and began to decline - Edge peaked in August 2017 - the relative importance of the browser to Windows 10 users evaporated. Worse times are to come. If Microsoft's new plan to go "full Chromium" with Edge doesn't alter trends, a year from now the browser's share of Windows 10 will have shrunk to around 6.5%.

Firefox recovers - for now - from another near-death experience

Net Applications pegged Firefox's user share at 9.6% for December, a six-tenths of a percentage point boost from November. It was the largest increase for the open-source browser since November 2017, when it was still clawing its way out of a mid-year 7.7% user share grave.

The growth changed Computerworld's forecast for Firefox. A month ago, the prediction was that the browser would slip below 8% in March and beneath 7% by August. Although the auguries - based on Firefox's 12-month average - remain in the red, the latest puts the browser above 9% until May, above 8% until January 2020.

Mozilla must maintain growth to demonstrate that Firefox really has a future, of course, something easier written than made reality. December's increase could well be a one-month blip, not the beginning of some kind of real turnaround.

Elsewhere in the December data, Google's Chrome gained 1.6 percentage points, ending the month at 67.2%. The increase was Chrome's fourth of 2018 that exceeded a full point.

As forecast, Chrome broke through the two-thirds mark - albeit a month earlier than anticipated - and continued a march to what may be an unassailable browser supremacy. Using the 12-month average, Chrome could hit 70% in June 2019 and 75% in March 2020.

Apple's Safari stayed flat at 3.7% in December but because of an increase in the share of macOS/OS X, the portion of Mac users running Safari dropped to 35.1%. That's the lowest Safari share of all Macs since Computerworld began recording data in mid-2015. Apple's laissez-faire attitude toward Safari on the desktop - the browser gets an upgrade only once a year - has weakened its hold on Mac owners. Safari may be the next browser to be "Edged," or rendered moot as an operating system's default.

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