Top web browsers 2018: Firefox sits on slippery slope, Chrome grows even bigger

If past is prologue, Mozilla's Firefox, Microsoft's Edge and Internet Explorer, and Apple's Safari are all in trouble. Analytics vendor Net Applications' data shows all three web browsers slipping in May as Google Chrome continued to grow.

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Top browsers, September 2017

Microsoft's browsers suffered another big setback last month, losing so much user share that they fell beneath the 20% bar.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge — an estimate of the world's personal computer owners who ran those browsers — plummeted by 1.9 percentage points, ending at a combined 19.3%. The downturn was the largest since October 2016.

September's decline was previewed the previous month, when IE+Edge lost nearly a full percentage point after a five-month stretch when the browsers' slump had been relatively small.

Most notable was that the browsers' combined share dropped below 20%, a milestone of sorts, albeit a negative one, in their decline, which began in earnest a year and a half ago. It was then that Microsoft forced Windows users to upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer supported by their version of Windows — which meant IE11 for most users — or run Edge on Windows 10.

Rather than nudging customers to upgrade IE or adopt Edge, the mandate prompted millions to abandon Microsoft's browsers and choose alternatives, for the most part Google's Chrome. The decision, which Microsoft described in mid-2014 as necessary for security reasons as well as to ensure compatibility with services like Office 365, turned out to be among the company's most disastrous. Since the upgrade order went into effect in January 2016, IE has shed nearly two-thirds of its user share, tumbling from 48.6% to last month's 19.3%.

Just over one in five Windows personal computers — 21% — ran IE or Edge in September. (The difference between the 19.3%, which represented IE+Edge's user share of all personal computers, and the 21% of just Windows machines, was due to the latter powering 90.6% of all systems, not 100% of them.)

Nor has Edge taken up enough of the slack as IE's share has plunged. Last month, Edge ran on a record-low 17.7% of Windows 10 personal computers. Edge's share has diminished since Windows 10's debut — it accounted for 39% of all Windows 10 in mid-2015 — even as the operating system's share has grown dramatically.

If every Windows 10 user had stuck with Edge, the OS's default browser, Edge would have a user share of 29.1%, or more than five times its actual mark. Instead, the more PC owners who run Windows 10, the poorer Edge has performed. To Computerworld, that signals an irredeemable loss for Microsoft; it's unlikely the firm will be able to coax customers to return Edge to pride of place on Windows 10.

Since browser share is a zero-sum game, Microsoft's loss meant rivals won. Apple's Safari climbed by 1.2 percentage points to 5.1%, its highest mark in more than two years, and Mozilla's Firefox added six-tenths of a percentage point, climbing to 12.9%, the largest share that browser has enjoyed in nearly three years. And Chrome edged up three-tenths of a point to 59.6%, ending a three-month slowdown in growth.

Net Applications estimates user share by sniffing the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients' websites, then tallying the various browsers and operating systems. It also weights each country's data by the size of its online population to account for locations, like China, where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

Chart: browser market share September 2017 IDG / Net Applications

Microsoft's browsers — Internet Explorer and Edge — were used by just 19% of the world's online users last month, according to new data. The browser's decline, precipitous since the start of 2016, shows no sign of abating. (Data: Net Applications.)

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