Top web browsers 2020: Edge makes double digits

In October, Google's Chrome browser shed market share for the third month in a row. Meanwhile, Microsoft's Edge broke into double-digits — the largest ever gain for Edge in a single month

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Microsoft's Edge last month posted its first ever double-digit browser share, while Google's Chrome slid for the third month straight.

Mozilla's Firefox once again held steady, keeping its head above water.

According to data published Sunday by California-based metrics company Net Applications, Edge's October share climbed by 1.4 percentage points, ending the month at 10.2%, the first time Microsoft's browser broke through that psychologically important barrier. The gain was the largest ever for Edge in a single month, almost double that of the previous record set in December 2019.

The increase was so large that it immediately raised suspicions that it was a miscount by Net Applications rather than a reflection of reality. Bolstering that was an even greater boost to the share of Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE), the obsolete browser the Redmond, Wash. company has started to strip of some of its support. IE's share for October — 5.6% — was 1.7 points higher than the month prior, a jump so out of character as to be unbelievable.

Edge's gain was understandable, at least. Microsoft relaunched that 2015 browser earlier this year when it recast Edge with the Google-dominated Chromium technology, the same that powers Chrome. Not only did Microsoft make Edge a Chrome copy, but it also expanded support to versions of Windows other than 10, as well as macOS and, more recently, Linux.

Since January, Edge has slowly been adding share; 3.2 points since the Chromium-based Edge went final in the Stable channel. In the past 12 months, Edge has gained 4.1 percentage points, for an average of a third of a point per month.

At that pace, Edge should sit at almost 11% by year's end and at 15% by December 2021. Of course, that assumes Edge can maintain growth, which in turn requires one or more rivals continues to give up share.

The most likely loser? Chrome, mostly because of its titanic share but also because Edge is, well, Chrome wearing a different outfit.

Microsoft's launch of Windows 10 20H2 — the H2 signifying the year's second feature upgrade — last month may assist Edge as it continues to climb: 20H2 includes Chromium Edge. That should accelerate the replacement of original Edge, the version introduced in mid-2015 that ran only on Windows 10, with the sounder Chromium browser.

Chrome down for third consecutive month

Chrome dumped seven-tenths of a percentage point in October, falling back to 69.3%. The decline was the third in as many months, an unusual run that's occurred only four times in the browser's 15 years. (The last time it happened before this was in September-December 2019.)

Whenever Chrome suffers losses in two or more straight months, it's tempting to wonder whether the browser has peaked. Computerworld has tentatively pegged more than a couple such milestones before but been proven wrong each time. The browser could easily bounce back as it has before.

Computerworld's latest forecast — as always, based on Chrome's 12-month average — stayed with growth, albeit pared significantly from 30 days ago. Chrome should return to 70% by March 2021 and reach 71% by September 2022. (The latter was three months later than last month's forecast, showing how present declines quickly impact future gains.)

Edge remains Chrome's most dangerous competitor, primarily — and this is Google's own doing to some degree — because the former is the latter, what with both relying on Chromium. But Microsoft has cards to play here that Google cannot match; Microsoft will leverage its enterprise management reputation and expertise in an attempt to wean commercial customers from Google's browser.

Microsoft's strategy, then, would be the opposite of Google's. The latter pushed Chrome to consumers until its share reached tipping point, and employees demanded the right to run the same browser they'd become familiar with at home. Microsoft would instead hope to win over business users in the expectation that they might want to run the same browser on home PCs, tablets or even phones.

Firefox: Not dead yet!

Firefox didn't move its share needle last month; it stayed at the same 7.2% mark it earned in September. That meant Firefox didn't gain any ground. It also meant it didn't lose any, probably its most important goal for now and the foreseeable future.

Mozilla's browser also stuck to the bad news forecast of last month, although Computerworld's current prediction puts it under 6% in August 2021, two months later than last month's estimate. At its 12-month rate of decline, Firefox will dip below 5% in May 2022.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, Apple's Safari slumped by two-tenths of a percentage point in October, sliding to 3.4%. Opera Software's Opera fell by a slightly-larger three-tenths of a point to end the month at an all-time low of seven-tenths of a point.

Net Applications calculates share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers used to reach the websites of Net Applications' clients. The company counts visitor sessions to measure browser activity.

Or it used to.

At the same time it published October's share numbers, Net Applications announced that it's pulling the plug on the data source. "October 2020 is the last month of data," the firm said. "Why? An upcoming change in browsers will break our device detection technology and will cause inaccuracies for a long period of time."

The change Net Applications cited would remove much of the agent string information used not only to compile analytics such as browser and operating system share, but also by advertisers and/or scammers to "fingerprint" individuals so that they can be more thoroughly tracked as they conduct their online lives.

Computerworld has not yet decided whether to continue the "Top web browsers" series, and if so, which alternate data source might be used.

Stay tuned.

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