Top web browsers 2019: Microsoft's browser share falls to record low

While Microsoft's browsers lost ground in September, Firefox managed another small gain. But the big winner continues to be Google's Chrome, which dominates the browser market.

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Top web browsers, August 2019

Microsoft's Edge completed a six-month surge in user share that represented a 24% increase and brought the browser to its highest-ever level.

According to U.S. analytics vendor Net Applications, Edge's August user share rose by half a percentage point to 6.3%, a record for the browser in its first four years. During the six months ending Aug. 31, Edge added 1.6 points to its share, the equivalent of a 24% boost.

The growth by Edge, however, did not translate into a similar-sized increase in the browser's portion of Windows 10 browsers because the operating system jumped up more than two percentage points. (Although the "full-Chromium" Edge, the version Microsoft's building using the Google-dominated Chromium project's technologies, has been released in preview for non-Windows 10 OSes, it's a certainty that the vast bulk of Edge's users are on 10.)

By Net Applications' numbers, Edge accounted for only 12.4% of all Windows 10 browser activity, a half a point increase over the month prior. But the six-month increase of Edge's share of Windows 10 was a measly 4%.

It may be tempting to credit Microsoft's switch to Chromium for the increase but Microsoft did not give users a working preview until mid-April. Of the four months since, two recorded decreases in Edge's browser share.

Until Microsoft rolls out a polished version of full-Chromium Edge - a Stable channel build, using Chrome's nomenclature, which Microsoft has adopted - and better yet forces the new Edge onto Windows 10 users - Computerworld is convinced it will be impossible to pin the browser's ups and downs on the revamp.

On the share stairs, Chrome takes one step down after two up

After a near-record leap in July, Chrome last month dropped 1.4 percentage points, falling to 67.2%, the same number it booked at the start of 2019.

Chrome has had a habit of doing this two up, one back - or even two up, two back - recently. In May, Chrome added 2.3 points, then promptly lost 1.6 points in June. July saw an increase of another 2.3 percentage points, with August subtracting 1.4 of those.

The ups and downs have produced projections that have been alternately up- then downbeat. This one is the latter: Chrome now won't reach the 70% milestone until December 2020, a full year later than the forecast of just last month. (Reality will likely be somewhere in between.) But there's still no signal that Chrome's rise has plateaued, much less that it's in danger or reversing.

Edge's 1.5 percentage point increase over the last six months notwithstanding, there simply isn't a competitor worth the name among the browsers-not-named-Chrome.

Firefox hangs on

Firefox added a tenth of a percentage point to its user share in August, wrapping up the month at 8.4% and putting an end to a three-month slide.

But August was also the third consecutive month that Firefox remained under the 9% bar. Its record: Four straight months below 9% in May through August 2016.

While Firefox at least didn't lose share, it continued to flirt with disaster. Computerworld's revised forecast put the browser under 8% by November and predicted that the browser will drop below 7% by August 2020.

It becomes harder and harder to visualize how Mozilla will work its way out of the browser basement. Can its focus on privacy, specifically the emphasis on blocking web trackers, convince millions to try (or retry) Firefox? That seems tough when every rival but Chrome rushes to implement their own anti-tracking. Is the enterprise Firefox's salvation? How can it be when Microsoft positions Edge as more-or-less-Chrome but with its enterprise imprimatur? Firefox needs a solid six months of growth at a minimum to convince anyone that it has put possible extinction behind it.

Elsewhere in Net Applications' numbers, Apple's Safari grew by half a percentage point to 3.9% and Opera Software's browser slid a tad to 1.4%. The only silver lining for either was Safari's share of all macOS-powered computers - 39.8% - was the highest since May 2018.

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

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