Top web browsers 2020: Firefox ends a sorta/kinda recovery as share losses return

Last month put a dent in Mozilla's plans to try and grow user share for its Firefox browser. Google Chrome continued its climb.

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Top web browsers, May 2020

Chrome's share reached a record high in May, the fifth straight month of gains, a run the browser last enjoyed three years ago.

According to data published Monday by California metrics vendor Net Applications, Chrome's share in May climbed six-tenths of a percentage point to 69.8%. The browser has been on a run of late, with the previous five months – January to May – putting 3.2 points on Chrome's ledger. The only other browser to post gains during that stretch – Safari – added a mere two-tenths of a point.

To put Chrome's position into perspective, no browser has had more than Chrome's current share since December 2008, when Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) held more than 70% even as it was trending down, under assault from Mozilla's Firefox. (That month, Chrome, which had debuted only months before, accounted for a tiny 1.4% of all browser share.)

May's addition changed Chrome's 12-month forecast, which now predicts the browser will reach 70% this month (June) but will need until December to make 71%. If Chrome breaks the 70% bar, it will become only the third browser to do so, following Netscape Navigator (an ancestor of Firefox) and IE.

It's unclear how much headroom Chrome has – it seems very unlikely that it can duplicate IE's crushing dominance of, say, 2005, when that browser had close to a 90% share – but it almost certainly can squeeze a few more points out of the competition. IE has points to give up, not many but at least a couple, while Firefox could easily continue its ruinous slide and slough another two or three percentage points.

As Computerworld has said before, the only threat to Chrome in the near term will be Microsoft's Edge, the Chrome clone.

Firefox hangs in there

For a second straight month, Firefox held onto its share; the browser ended May with 7.2%, losing a statistically insignificant two-hundredths of a point.

May was also the third consecutive month that Firefox sat behind Edge after losing its second-place status in March; the gap between the two grew to six-tenths of a point, an increase, like the month prior, of one-tenth of a percentage point. Unless Edge stumbles badly, it looks like it now has solid lock on second place.

Although Firefox remained flat, Computerworld's new forecast – based on the browser's 12-month average – continued to anticipate a future decline. By that prognosis, Firefox will slide below 7% in July and end the year at 5.9%. That dismal prediction may not come true, of course; in fact, Firefox's losses over the past six months has been just 40% of that over the last 12, hinting that its decline has slowed.

Mozilla has to be scratching its head, wondering what it has to do to get users on board. In many ways, it's been the force behind browsers' emphasis on user privacy, a movement nearly all have gotten behind. Yet it struggles to keep what audience it has, much less grow that.

Edge's gains make case for Chromiumization

Microsoft's two browsers – the reworked Edge and run-down IE – combined forces to lose seven-tenths of a percentage point in May, posting a share of 12.5% at its end.

All of that was due to IE, as Edge added a tenth of a point to its total in May, reaching 7.9%, a record for the just-overhauled browser. Meanwhile, IE surrendered eight-tenths of a percentage point, the most since January, to drag its share to 4.6%, the first time that browser has dipped under the 5% mark in the 15 years for which Computerworld has records of Net Applications' numbers.

While IE's current share of under 5% may be an undercount – Computerworld remains convinced that metrics vendors like Net Applications have little insight into enterprises, where a single IP external address may mask many internal IP addresses – it's difficult to know just exactly where the ancient browser stands. It's clear Microsoft believes it important enough to cater to – seen in the IE mode baked into the Chromium-based Edge – but whether that's because of popularity inside corporations or just the power of some few very important customers cannot be judged from outside Redmond.

Computerworld's latest forecast has IE's share evaporating to 1.5% in less than a year, which seems unlikely at first glance. Yet the browser, for all its agelessness, will vanish at some point.

Edge's May was the six straight month of increases, and with 1.95 points added to it during that time, its largest gain since the first half of 2016 when the browser was nearly brand new. From the limited data available – since the end of January, Edge climbed by a less-than-stellar eight-tenths of a point – it appears that the "Chromiumization" of Edge has, at the least, legitimized that browser (where before it was little more than laughingstock). At its current 12-month average growth rate, Edge would be in double digits – specifically, approximately 10.3% – by this time next year.

It would be a mistake to see that as small potatoes, since no browser other than Chrome currently can boast of a double-digit share.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, both Apple's Safari and Opera software's Opera remained flat, ending May at 3.9% and 1.1%, respectively.

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

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