Top web browsers 2018: Microsoft's IE and Edge shed share as Chrome gains

Browsers from Microsoft and Mozilla lost some of their user share in January, with Google's Chrome grabbing what its rivals lost.

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Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge browsers tumbled last month in user share as the once-universal programs ran on just one in every six personal computers worldwide.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, the user share of IE and Edge - an estimate of the world's personal computer owners who ran that browser - plummeted by 3.3 percentage points to end November at 16.3%. The decline was the largest ever for Microsoft's browsers.

Mozilla's Firefox also stumbled badly last month, losing nearly 2 of its hard-won percentage points, slipping to 11.4%, its lowest user share since October 2016.

These numbers, and more importantly the fact that IE+Edge's and Firefox's numbers sank to such a degree, is striking. But it was as much a data reset by Net Applications as proof of massive user desertions.

As it has periodically, Net Applications has reworked how it tracks browsers, operating systems and other metrics of interest to online businesses. In a message appended to a refreshed analytics display, Net Applications explained that it had rewritten its "entire collection and aggregation infrastructure to address" out-of-whack data.

The culprit? Bots, said Net Applications. These software-based tools often are deployed by criminals, who program their automated scripts to mimic human online behavior, perhaps in an attempt to cash in on an ad click fraud scam.

"Bots can cause significant skewing of data," admitted Net Applications. "We have seen situations where traffic from certain large countries is almost completely bot traffic. In other countries, ad fraudsters generate traffic that spoofs certain technologies in order to generate high-value clicks. Or, they heavily favor a particular browser or platform."

While some may want to blame the large shifts in browser user share on Net Applications' scouring its data of bot traffic, that would be the wrong move. "Please note: This dataset is separate from and replaces the legacy data," the company said, making clear that it had gone back into past data too, not just November's, and eradicated the numbers it ascribed to bots.

Under the new methodology, for example, IE+Edge in October was 16%, or 3.6 points lower than Net Applications called the pair using the older, bots-plagued data. Using the new-only data, IE+Edge actually edged up (no pun intended) by about two-tenths of a percentage point. Likewise, Firefox was at 11.7% in October under the new scheme, but 13.1% under the old. (Firefox's drop, then, was about three-tenths of a percentage point during November.)

Assuming that the new methodology cleaned out all or most of the dodgy bot-driven traffic from Net Application's data, the bottom line is that the numbers now portray IE+Edge, and to a lesser extent, Firefox, in less flattering lights. Microsoft's browsers have deteriorated to a point unthinkable just two years ago, when they ran on more than half the world's personal computers. And Firefox's climb back from a near-death experience in 2016 has not been as impressive as the data once showed.

Also of interest were the new data points for Edge and IE calculated against only Windows personal computers. Because both browsers run only on Windows devices, it has been possible to surmise their share on that platform alone. Of all Windows 10 users, just 13.2%, a record low, ran Edge in November (Edge only runs on Windows 10). As recently as March, Edge's share of Windows 10 had been around 22%.

IE's share of 18.4% of all Windows PCs was slightly better than Edge's, but like its successor, IE's November mark was an all-time low. At the start of 2016, IE's Windows-only share was a more respectable 28.5%.

Bottom line: Net Applications' scrubbed data painted a picture of Windows 10 users shunning Edge, and IE users renouncing the browser in record numbers.

Apple's Safari also shed user share last month, sliding six-tenths of a percentage point to 3.9%. Meanwhile, the king of the hill, Google's Chrome, ended November with a user share of 60.6%, up about eight-tenths of a point. It was the first time that Chrome broke the 60% tape in Net Applications' tracking.

Because browser share is a zero-sum game, the downgrading of Microsoft's, Mozilla's and Apple's browsers meant others experienced growth. In Net Applications' case, the cleaned-up data and revised website listed a slew of previously-unreported browsers, including several popular outside the U.S. Among those were QQ, the browser created by Tencent, China's largest web company (with a user share of 1.8%) and Yandex, which belongs to the same-named Russian search firm (0.6%). Others now on Net Applications' list ranged from Opera (1.4%) to Vivaldi (0.1%).

Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the browser agent strings of those who visit its clients' websites. It then tallies the various browsers, accounting for the size of each country's online population to better estimate share in regions where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.

browser user share, november 2017 IDG/Data: Net Applications

Microsoft's browsers — Internet Explorer and Edge — were used by just 16% of the world's online users of personal computers last month, or on about one in every six systems. The once mighty Microsoft could soon be eclipsed by Mozilla and that open-source developer's Firefox.

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