There was a time when Microsoft’s Internet Explorer browser had a healthy 95% of the overall browser market. This didn’t even mean that their main opposition on the PC had the other 5% as you had to factor into this the Apple Mac on which people ran Safari. Sadly this was the time of IE6 where the browser had little or no competition and, as such, innovation was stifled as Microsoft felt they had nothing to compete against.
The birth and fast growth of Firefox fortunately changed all that and now the horribly buggy and insecure nightmare that is IE6 is firmly on its last legs, supported only in some businesses where the cost or redeveloping bespoke web apps is prohibitive, and in emerging computing markets such as China.
Now the latest figures released by StatCounter show that IE usage worldwide has dropped below 40% for the first time (IE still sits at 52% according to Net Applications), a drop of almost 10% in the last year alone. The figures also show that Google’s Chrome browser is now firmly in second place with extremely steady growth, overtaking Firefox which has been dwindling ever so slightly.
Behind these figures will be the birth of smartphones and tablets, almost all of which run a non-Microsoft browser and things such as the Browser ballot screen, seen by EU residents, where Microsoft ask Windows users to choose which browser they want to use.
With Windows 8 Microsoft are beginning the fight back as the new Metro version of IE10 is embedded deep into the operating system and there’s no indication yet that Mozilla or Google are developing Metro versions of their own browsers. In fact it’s really quite cunning the way Microsoft have gone about this with Metro as, because of the way Metro apps are generally styled, it will probably be difficult for anybody to tell different browsers apart from one another. Microsoft are no doubt counting on this to help grow IE market share once again.
How successful this strategy will be remains to be seen but it’s very clear that Google are doing the right thing with Chrome, in fact their browser is very hard to criticise at all, unlike Firefox which many consider to be heavy and bloated. Innovation with Internet Explorer tends to come only every couple of years but Google offer far more frequent updates, as Mozilla do, and are therefore able to respond to the needs of their customers far more quickly. With Windows 8, Microsoft have said that the Metro version of IE also won’t support any plugins (Flash, Acrobat etc.) making this a place where rivals could seize the opportunity. With its stripped-down approach though, it’s likely that any Metro version of Chrome would go the same way.
With Windows 8 not due out until the very end of this year we can expect these figures to continue their current trend. This could see Chrome and IE converge in the summer as both sit equally on around 35% market share. At this point the battle really will begin and Chrome could very likely be the world’s most popular browser by the end of the year, something not achieved by any browser since the early years of Netscape Navigator in the 1990′s.