Does it really matter which browser is the world’s most popular. If you’re the company or group that develops the browser, it certainly does. But for us 99.9 percenters, it makes no difference at all. So why does everyone make such a big deal out of the periodic reports that one browser or another is now Numbah One?
In the case of Internet Explorer, there are a lot of Microsoft haters out there, and anything that tarnishes that company’s position is welcome. Some people are fans of the open source movement and thus are attracted to Mozilla’s Firefox, while others think that Google’s Chrome, with its minimalist look and speedy page rendering, is simply cool, the anti-IE.
Me, I just want my browser to work the way I do. A lot of that is probably just habit. I’ve gotten used to Firefox, and Pale Moon, its close cousin, and when I need to use another browser for one reason or another, it feels a bit awkward. But ultimately it makes no difference. That’s not to say there aren’t specific Mozilla features, such as the add-ons, that I really like. But I wouldn’t say others wouldn’t be happy with Chrome or IE.
That wasn’t true five or so years ago. At that time, many Web pages were coded in such a way that browsers other than IE didn’t display them very well. That’s no longer the case. Unless you use a really obscure browser, and there are some around, the entire Web works quite well. Again, there are some differences, but no drop deads.
Having said all that, it is interesting to look at browser market share because it tells us something about the way people are using the Web.
I haven’t used IE, except for the sake of informed comparisons, much in years. But since I’m self-employed, my computing setup is my own business. But when I was out there in the 9 to 5 world, I had IT departments to cope with, and for security and central management reasons, the applications I used at work were their business, and rightfully so.
While IT departments are loosening up, quite a few still insist that company users work with IE. Since I know that’s the case, I tend to be a bit suspicious of surveys that purport to show Chrome with a greater market share. I do believe it is gaining popularity, and the fact that more people can use it at work speaks to the growing consumerization of IT. But many people who buy a new PC find that IE is already on it ready to use, so they don’t bother to change.
OK. Now to some numbers (We’re talking desktop here; mobile browsing is a different animal).
A company called NetMarketShare, which estimates browser usage differently than some other outfits, recently released its tally and found that IE is roughly 2.5 times more popular than with either Firefox or Chrome. It shows IE with a share of 54.05 percent; followed by Firefox at 19.71 percent and Chrome just a bit behind at 19.58 percent. After that, share for other browsers falls off the cliff, with Safari at just 4.62 percent, which seems low to me.
Of course, those numbers aggregate the different versions of these browsers, so they’re not quite as useful as they might be.
Unlike a number of its competitors, NetMarketShare counts unique users (instead of page views) and assigns different measurements to its samples from different countries. Notice, I said “samples,” and earlier I used the word “estimates.” There is no company that can actually measure browser usage. All they can do is make estimates, some of which are probably more accurate than others.
I’m not in a position to say whose methodology is better. But I do have a good deal of experience observing the technology industry, and my reasonably educated guess is that IE remains the leading browser for the reasons I’ve mentioned.
If you hate Microsoft, feel free to use Chrome and believe that it is the world’s most popular browser. Unlike many other prejudices, that one hurts no one.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.