By Gregg Keizer
Mozilla’s Firefox slumped, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) crashed, and even Google’s Chrome dropped last month in the global struggle for market share.
August was as unkind to browsers as the year has been to their users.
According to data published yesterday by California-based analytics company Net Applications, Firefox’s share fell by two-tenths of a percentage point, ending August at 7.1%, a record low in its years-long decline. The last time the browser held such a small share was more than 15 years ago, in March 2005, as it was building to be a legitimate alternate to the then-monarch IE.
By Net Applications’ measurements, Firefox lost the equivalent of 2.2% of its share during August. Mozilla’s own data — in the form of monthly average users, or MAU — also showed a decline for Firefox, albeit a smaller 1.3% downturn.
Firefox’s troubles have so accumulated that the open-source browser resembles a beat up junker near the end of a demolition derby: It’s a wonder it keeps going.
Mozilla not only has to deal with the share decline of its premier product but also with financial troubles going as far back as 2018, and more recently, a massive layoff of a quarter of its workforce. Every month’s share decline only reminds users — whether current or potential — of Firefox’s fragility.
Nor does Computerworld‘s forecast bring good news. The latest predicts that Firefox will fall below 7% in October (a month earlier than last month’s prognostication), and pegs Firefox’s share a year from now at 5.8%.
How much longer can Firefox take this? That’s a question Computerworld can’t answer. There is no set number at which a browser becomes inconsequential. But there also has never been a browser that, after accounting for at least 25% of all share, has recovered from a decline that drove it into the single digits.
Chrome’s share in August slipped to 70.9%, a decline of one-tenth of a percentage point. The stumble was the first of 2020; Chrome had gained ground each of the preceding seven months. Even so, Chrome remained up 4.3 points for the year. (In fact, it was the only top five browser to post a plus for 2020.)
The small decline did not change Computerworld‘s forecast for Chrome. Based on the browser’s 12-month average change in share, the latest prediction reiterated that Chrome should make 72% by December and 73% by March 2021.
Does Chrome have it in itself to keep gobbling up share? If so, how much? Those are tough questions.
A year ago, it looked like Chrome had hit its limit; during 2019, the browser went up and it went down, but it ended the year down by six-tenths of a percentage point, at around 66.6%. That, it seemed, was that. But in the first eight months of 2020, Chrome has shown it had more gas in the tank, adding another four-plus points.
It’s easy to envision Chrome taking an additional two points from Firefox — leaving Mozilla’s browser with just 5% or so — and grabbing another two points as IE nearly vanishes. Those gains would give it 75%. But further share redistribution would be harder. In fact, based on the numbers, Chrome’s top job going forward would have to be keeping a lid on Edge by hampering any Microsoft effort to grow its newest browser.
Microsoft’s browsers lost a whopping 2.1 percentage points in August, ending last month at a combined 12.3%.
Computerworld called that a month ago, after Net Applications posted its July report, saying that the 1.9-point increase for IE and Edge was “unbelievable” and pointing out that in earlier instances, huge gains were quickly repudiated by follow-on months’ data. “It’s unlikely that the enormous increase will stand, signaling that it’s more an artifact of Net Applications’ counting or how it weights some results over others,” we said at the time.
So it was.
The 2.1-point loss in August took back all of the 1.9-point gain of the month before, then added another bit of decline for good measure. Compare August’s number with June’s, though, ignore July entirely, and Microsoft’s slide over July and August comes out as about equal to the average monthly decline for the 12 months before July (in other words, July 2019 through June 2020). Put another way, the effect of July 2020 was nullified and IE+Edge instead fell as expected.
In August, IE’s share plunged by 2.2 points to 3.8%, a record low for that decades-old browser. Meanwhile, Edge rose slightly — less than one-tenth of a percentage point — to 8.5%. The latter remains on track to reach 11% within a year.
IE’s future is cloudier. A 12-month forecast puts IE at zero by this time next year. But while Microsoft recently began dialing back support for the browser, it’s certain that enterprises, which are wildly underrepresented (if represented at all) in Net Applications’ data, will certainly still be running IE (or the IE mode within Edge) in a year’s time.
Edge, of course, is Microsoft’s shot at reclaiming some kind of browser influence. It’s been tough going thus far: Since the Chromium-based Edge’s January debut, Edge has increased its share by only 1.5 percentage points, or about two-tenths of a point per month. That’s not going to put much of a dent in Chrome. Edge’s next opportunity for some kind of share bump will be when Microsoft releases Windows 10 20H2, the year’s fall feature upgrade, which will come with Chromium Edge.
Elsewhere in Net Applications’ numbers, Apple’s Safari climbed to 3.5% on the back of a half a percentage point gain, reversing the loss it suffered in July. Opera software’s Opera also grabbed more share, ending August at 1%, an increase of two-tenths of a point.
Net Applications calculates share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers used to reach the websites of Net Applications’ clients. The company counts visitor sessions to measure browser activity.
Copyright © 2020 IDG Communications, Inc.