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Web Browsers and Bots

Which Ones Are Most Frequently Used?

Copyright © 2008-2013, 2015 by David E. Ross

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Sic Transit Gloria Mundi

Netscape Navigator logo While earlier browsers had been developed, Netscape's Navigator brought the Web into everyday use. As the dominant product of Netscape, the browser was often called "Netscape", obscuring other products of the company.

Close to the time when Time Warner bought AOL, AOL bought Netscape. Shortly thereafter, AOL terminated further development of Navigator, turning all rights over to the non-profit Mozilla Foundation.

Navigator continued to be released by AOL's Netscape, but it was then merely a rebranded repackaging of Mozilla products, initially the browser from Mozilla Suite and then Firefox. In 2008, Netscape announced that it was discontinuing further releases of Navigator.

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Contrary to popular belief and publicity from Micro$oft, Internet Explorer (IE) is not the only browser available. While Micro$oft does indeed dominate the market for desktop computer operating systems and other applications, the user base held by IE has steadily dropped since 2003. During the same period, the user base held by Gecko browsers such as Firefox surged and then lost user base to Chrome. While some surveys indicate that Gecko browsers now hold a greater user base than IE, other surveys now indicate that Google's Chrome is now the dominant browser.

Besides IE, Firefox (the principal browser product of the Mozilla organization), and Chrome, browsers currently available for various platforms include the following (indicating that Micro$oft was not successful in destroying the competition):

Both users and browser developers would really like to know what user bases are held by different browsers. Since most browsers are distributed as freeware, however, there are no sales figures. Comparing download counts might indicate the size of user bases except for the fact that many downloaded software files are never installed while many other are often downloaded once and then installed on more than one computer.

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While many discuss market share, browsers are generally freeware and are not marketed. Thus, I use the term user base here.

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To many, the only measure of user base is how frequent various browsers are used to access Web sites (the statistics presented below). This too is not quite accurate since it is skewed by individuals who are avid Web surfers.

Browser Surveys

Most of estimates of user base are derived by logging Web sites to determine which browsers are used to view their pages. These will vary widely (and wildly) depending on the audience for the logged Web sites. Thus, statistics on browser user base — and operating systems too — are biased according to which users are logged.

In Tables 1-4, Gecko represents Mozilla browsers such as Firefox, SeaMonkey, and others. Internet Explorer, Gecko, and Opera include versions for hand-held devices (e.g., mobile phones) when such data are available. "Others" includes browsers no one of which has at least 0.5% of the user base.

Table 1 is based on logging the W3Schools Web site operated by Refnes Data of Norway. This site is of primary interest to Webmasters. Thus, the statistics in this table reflect browser usage by those with a high technical interest in browsers.

Table 1: Browser User Base Determined by W3Schools
Browser FamilyUser Base
Sep '08Aug '15Change
Internet Explorer49.0%6.6%
-42.4%
Gecko42.6%21.2%
-21.4%
Chrome2.0%64.0%+62.0%
Opera2.0%2.2%+0.2%
Safari2.7%4.5%+1.8%
Others1.7%1.5%-0.2%

From September 2008 through August 2013, W3Schools reports the overall share of the operating systems market held by all Windows versions dropped from 90.7% to 75.2%, with Windows 7 still accounting for about half of the Windows user base. Both Mac and Linux gained shares of the user in that period.

Table 2 contains data reported by StatCounter. This table is based on logging many different, unrelated sites around the world whose owners agree to allow StatCounter to collect logging data.

Table 2: Browser User Base Determined by StatCounter
Browser FamilyUser Base
Sep '08Aug '15Change
Internet Explorer67.2%16.0%-51.2%
Gecko25.8%15.6%-10.2%
Chrome1.0%52.8%+51.8%
Safari3.0%9.3%+6.3%
Opera2.9%1.8%-1.1%
Others0.2%4.4%+4.3%

"Others" includes browsers for mobiles and tablets.

Over the same period covered by Table 2, StatCounter reports that the overall share of the operating systems user base by all Windows versions decreased from 91.8% to 75.0%, with about two-thirds using Windows 7.

Table 3 contains data reported by Net Applications. This table is based on logging visits to the Web sites of Net Applications' customers (generally businesses) and visits to Web search services.

Table 3: Browser User Base Determined by
Net Applications
Browser FamilyUser Base
2009 avgJun '15Change
Internet Explorer67.6%52.2%-15.4%
Gecko23.5%11.7%-11.9%
Chrome3.5%29.5%+26.0%
Safari2.7%5.0%+2.3%
Opera2.2%1.3%-0.9%
Others0.6%0.4%-0.1%

In Table 3, "Others" does not include mobile or tablet browsers; these are dominated by Apple's Safari with a user base of 41.7% of all mobiles and tablets. From 2009 to the end of the period covered by this table, Net Applications reports that the overall share of the operating systems user base held by all Windows versions increased from 93.4% to 93.1%. Net Applications' statistics are contrary to those shown in Tables 1 and 2 (Table 4 not being updated for August 2015); nevertheless, they also indicate that Windows 7 still exceeds the combined total of the other Windows versions.

Table 4 contains data reported by the Wikimedia Foundation from logs of visits to all the Wikimedia Foundation projects, such as Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikinews, and Wikiversity.

Table 4: Browser User Base Determined by
Wikimedia Foundation
Browser FamilyUser Base
Apr '09Jun '15Change
Internet Explorer57.4%18.2%-39.2%
Gecko31.4%22.5%-8.8%
Chrome1.9%48.6%+46.7%
Safari3.9%4.2%+0.3%
Opera2.6%0.8%-1.8%
Others2.9%5.7%+2.8%

Table 4 reflects only desktop browsers with "Others" excluding browsers for mobile phones and similar devices. Overall, Wikimedia Foundation data indicate that mobile phones, tablets, and "apps" accounted for 39.0% of the user base for all browsers in the latest reporting period, with only Android (18.3%), iPhone (11.9%), iPad (3.8%), and Gecko (1.2%) exceeding 1% of the total user base.

Because I have been unable to run the necessary scripts in my Web pages under my current Web host, the following data cannot be updated.

I did a two-week collection of data during 7 through 20 April 2013 across 20 of my Web pages that contain visible visitor counters, repeating earlier surveys I have done. The audience in this case is far more eclectic than the audience for W3Schools but not necessarily as broad and varied as — and definitely a smaller sample than — the audience used by StatCounter or the Wikimedia Foundation. The "hits" were distributed across pages dealing with gardening, political commentary, encryption, literate writing, cooking, investing, and other topics. ("Hits" from the FreeFind Web crawler were excluded since I subscribe to this for the search tool I installed on this Web site and thus force "hits" by that crawler.)

Table 5: Web Site "Hits" — My Own Survey
Type of "Hit" Oct '09 Oct '10 Apr '11 Oct '11 Apr '12 Oct '12 Apr '13
Total "Hits" 1,876 1,620 1,686 1,748 1,264 1,353 1,625
Browsers 48.8% 60.5% 48.4% 52.5% 47.3% 40.6% 37.7%
Search crawlers 50.8% 38.3% 50.4% 46.6% 51.1% 58.1% 61.6%
Other 0.4% 1.2% 1.2% 0.9% 1.5% 1.3% 0.6%
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"Browsers" include those used on mobiles (e.g., "smart" phones). "Other" includes unknown user agents, Web accelerators, link-checkers, HTML validators, etc.

Table 6 details which browsers were involved in the "hits" indicated in the "Browser" row of Table 5.

Table 6: Browser "Hits" — My Own Survey
(percent of total browser "hits")
Browsers Oct '09 Oct '10 Apr '11 Oct '11 Apr '12 Oct '12 Apr '13
Internet Explorer (IE) 50.5% 40.2% 40.4% 32.8% 40.9% 26.5% 34.1%
AOL for PCs (included in IE) 0.8% 1.2% 0.4% 0.5% 0.5% 0.5% 0.5%
Gecko-based 36.7% 37.5% 28.0% 30.1% 28.8% 30.7% 26.1%
Firefox (included in Gecko) 34.9% 36.3% 27.5% 29.2% 27.5% 29.0% 24.5%
SeaMonkey (included in Gecko) 0.0% 0.8% 0.5% 0.3% 0.7% 0.5% 0.3%
Chrome 0.9% 10.3% 13.4% 19.9% 15.2% 23.4% 18.6%
Safari 7.4% 10.6% 14.8% 14.1% 10.2% 15.5% 13.9%
Safari for phones (included in Safari) n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a n/a 9.3%
Opera 1.7% 1.0% 1.6% 2.2% 3.3% 3.5% 6.4%
Mobile Phones (not Safari) n/a n/a n/a n/a 1.0% 0.4% 0.3%
Others 0.3% 0.3% 1.8% 1.0% 0.3% 0.4% 0.5%
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Prior to April 2012, browsers specific to mobile phones were included with "Others".
Safari-based browsers for mobile phones were first tallied in the April 2013 survey.

Out of five surveys, three indicate no one browser dominates the user base. Each of the remaining two surveys disagree on which browser is dominant. The latter contradiction plus the other three surveys reflect a fragmented user base that benefits users by promoting competition among browser developers.

Note that my statistics for the Safari browser might be inflated because my daughter (frequently visiting my Web site while living about 2,000 miles away) uses a Mac with that browser. On the other hand, a number of Web-capable mobile phones also use versions of Safari, including the iPhone; in Table 6, "hits" from such Safari versions are now counted separately from other "Mobile Phones". Overall, 9.6% of the "hits" were attributed to mobiles despite the fact that my Web pages are designed for viewing on monitors for desk-top computers.

(During the latest two-week survey, my A Shipment to My Daughter received 241 "hits", 15% of the total.)

Crawlers and Bots

While collecting data for Tables 4 and 5, I also collected statistics about "hits" from search engine crawlers (sometimes called bots). These accounted for well more than half of the "hits" logged during my most recent survey.

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Some ISPs assert that video and music downloads consume too much band-width and cause Internet congestion. They want to charge users extra for such activities. Perhaps they should instead look at the band-width used by bots and crawlers. They should also look at the band-width used by spam.

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Among search engine crawlers, the most frequent visitors to my Web site — accounting for more than 73% of all crawler "hits" — were:

Visits by 19 different crawlers were logged during the two-week survey. Apparently, a number of individuals and organizations would like to earn the fortunes made by the founders of Yahoo and Google. Not all succeed. Ahrefs (a search-engine optimizing (SEO) service) dropped from 3rd to 11th place between October 2012 and April 2013, and Majestic-12 (a distributed search service) dropped from 6th to 10th. WBSearchBot and Wotbox — accounting for a combined 40 visits in my October 2012 survey — disappeared completely in this latest survey.

Besides analyzing which crawlers visited my Web site, I also was able to analyze from where browser "hits" originated. More than 70% of the "hits" by actual browsers left information as to where a link to my own Web page was found. Other than "hits" from other of my own Web pages, Google was by far the most common source of "hits" by browsers.

Of course, these statistics reflect upon the popularity of the search services, not upon how well they index my pages.

There were no detectable "hits" from search services indicating Nutch, Java-based crawlers, AcoonBot, or Ezooms. It is not known what UA strings might be used by those search services.

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