Top web browsers 2020: Firefox, IE, Chrome all fall

Firefox took the biggest market-share hit in August as Mozilla’s financial woes continue.

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Top web browsers, June 2020

Google's Chrome cracked 70% last month in the browser share sweepstakes, setting another record as it reached a number held by only two other browsers in the history of the web.

According to data published last week by analytics company Net Applications, Chrome's share during June rose four-tenths of a percentage point to 70.2%. The browser has been on a sixth-month run, adding 3.6 percentage points to its account since January. The only other browser to end the first half of 2020 on a positive note was Opera Software's Opera, which gained just one-tenth of a point in that time.

More notable was that, by breaking the 70% bar, Chrome became only the third browser to reach such a dominant position, following Netscape Navigator (ancestor of Firefox) in the 1990s and Microsoft's Internet Explorer in the first decade of this century.

Chrome's continued climb may not be sustainable over the long run – that would require the extinction of at least one rival – but on a strictly linear basis, the browser's future looks rosy. Computerworld's latest forecast, based on a 12-month average change in share, puts Chrome at 71% by September and beyond 72% by year's end.

Microsoft's Edge will be the sole conceivable threat to Chrome's overwhelming majority, and then only if organizations – businesses and universities in particular – adopt the Chromium-based clone because of its manageability and then users mimic  that at-work move on their personal devices after hours.

Edge's increase: Caused by Chromium or Windows 10?

Microsoft's two browsers, Edge and IE, combined to post a rare increase in share, upping their combined number one-tenth of a percentage point in June to 12.6%.

The growth was all on Edge, which gained two-tenths of a point to reach 8.1%, a record for the five-year-old browser. Meanwhile, IE lost half as much, slipping another tenth of a point to 4.5%. The phrase, "Two steps forward, one step back," has become Microsoft's literal rate of change.

IE's 4.5% – a record low for the browser veteran this century – transformed into a somewhat better 5.2% when judged against only Windows' share of all personal computers. (The disparity of shares of all systems versus those running Windows only is due to the latter's own share – 86.7% in June – falling well short of the 100% an all-PC total represents.)

Computerworld remains convinced that Net Applications' numbers tell only a partial story; they are unlikely to accurately portray usage inside an enterprise, where a single external IP address may mask multiple internal addresses. It's more likely that Net Applications undercounts (rather than overcoats) IE. Still, it's unclear whether Microsoft still sees IE as an important enterprise tool because of the browser's active use by businesses or because a handful of customers – very large, important customers – demanded continued support.

The IE forecast now envisions the browser's share plummeting to 1.8% by this time next year, and theoretically evaporating entirely by January 2022. One wonders who, if anyone, will then mourn IE's passing.

On the other hand, Edge's June was the seventh straight month of increases. The month pushed the 12-month total to just over 2 percentage points, an increase bested only by the browser's first year, when it put on approximately 5 points.

Since the end of January – Edge launched in the middle of that month – Edge's share has climbed by 1.1 percentage points, an increase of almost two-tenths of a point per month.

At first glance, that would seem to validate Microsoft's decision to "Chromify" Edge by adopting Chromium as its browser's foundation. Surely that move was responsible for the increase?

Perhaps. But there's no way to know with certainty.

Although the five months prior to Chromium Edge's release (September to January) added less to the browser – just seven-tenth of a point – the five months before that (April through August) recorded a just-as-good 1.1 percentage points.

It's just as reasonable to assume that Edge's climb – whether old or new Edge – is just as much due to the increase in Windows 10's share as any change to the browser itself. Since Chromium Edge's debut, Edge's share of all Windows 10 browser activity climbed from 12.9% to 13.7%, an eight-tenths of a point boost. In other words, the bulk of Edge's last-five-months increase 8 out of 11 tenths, or 73%, could just as easily be attributed to Windows 10's accumulation.

At its current 12-month average, Edge should be in double digits – around 10.1% -- by July 2021.

Firefox scratches back some lost share

Things are looking up for Mozilla: June was the third straight month that Firefox held onto or increased its share; the browser ended June at 7.6%, up four-tenths of a point from its April and May 7.2%. At the end of June, Firefox's share was identical to its end-of-February total.

Even with the increase, Firefox remained in third place behind Edge. (Firefox lost its long-held second spot in March.) The gap between the two shrunk by a tenth of a point to five-tenths of a percentage point. Yet it's unlikely that Firefox will reclaim the second position as predictions point to a widening difference over the next 12 months.

Computerworld's latest forecast continues to predict declines ahead for Mozilla's browse. Firefox won't slip below 7% until December (last month's prognostication indicated that would happen this month) and a year from now will still stand above 6%. Although still discouraging for Firefox fans, the forecast is less dire than previous ones, with just the slightest hint that the decline has eased its pace.

But by those prognoses, the gap between Edge and Firefox will have grown over the next year to nearly 4 percentage points.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' data, Apple's Safari shed three-tenths of a point, dropping to 3.6%, its lowest mark since October 2019. Opera software's Opera remained flat, ending June at 1.1%.

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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