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Web Browsers

Which Ones Are Most Frequently Used?

Copyright © 2008-2013, 2015, 2018 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$oft, Internet Explorer (IE) and its successor Edge are not the only browsers available. While Micro$oft does indeed dominate the market for desktop computer operating systems, the user base held by Micro$oft's browsers 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. Some surveys indicate that Gecko browsers now hold a greater user base than IE, Google's Chrome is now the dominant browser. (While many discuss market share, browsers are generally freeware and are not marketed. Thus, I use the term user base here.)

Besides IE/Edge, Firefox (the principal browser product of the Mozilla organization), and Chrome, browsers currently available for various platforms include Opera and Apple's Safari.

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.

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 1-3, Gecko represents Mozilla browsers such as Firefox, SeaMonkey, and others. IE/Edge, Gecko, Chrome, and Opera include versions for hand-held devices (e.g., mobile phones) unless data specific to such devices are available. "Others" includes browsers no one of which has at least 0.5% of the user base. In all three surveys, Chrome dominates 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
Aug '15May '18Change

From September 2008 through April 2018, W3Schools reports the overall share of the operating systems market held by all Windows versions dropped from 90.7% to 76.0%, with Windows 7 still accounting for 31% of the Windows user base.

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
Aug '15Apr '18Change

"Others" includes browsers for mobiles and tablets. It is not clear whether StatCounter's data for IE includes Edge.

Since September 2008, StatCounter reports that the overall share of the operating systems user base by all Windows versions decreased from 91.8% to 36.7%, with the mobile operating system Android now dominating at 40.0%. StatCounter's data shows that Windows 7 accounts for 40.0% of the Windows user base.

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
May '16May '18Change

In Table 3, mobile or tablet browsers are included in the specific browsers, dominated by Chrome with a user base of 63.1% of all mobiles and tablets.

Since 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 decreased from 93.4% to 88.4%. They also indicate that Windows 7 still for half of the total of all Windows versions still in use.

The Wikimedia Foundation used to make available data on what browsers were used to visit its Web sites, including Wikipedia, Wikimedia Commons, Wiktionary, Wikibooks, Wikiquote, Wikisource, Wikinews, and Wikiversity. Those data no longer seem available. Instead, searches within Wikipedia for browser usage yield links to Net Applications.

I used to collect data on visits to my own Web site. After moving my site to a new host, however, the scripts used for collecting those data no longer work.


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