Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Are you ready for Internet Explorer 8 and Safari 4? - Overview of the web browser market

Does your organisation keep an eye on current browser standards and adoption rates?

If not it's worth surveying the market a few times each year to ensure that your web standards continue to align with market trends.

Below is a quick whip around the market, looking at the main browsers in use today.

Internet Explorer
Microsoft recently released the final version of Internet Explorer 8, with the expected range of features as demonstrated during the public beta.

It is still early days for the browser, however based on past experience it will experience rapid early adoption up to around 10-15% of the market, primarily offsetting Internet Explorer 7 rather than other browsers, then more slowly grow towards a larger market share over several years.

Most of the initial adoption will be by households - government customers - meaning that it is important to track usage and determine when your agency will begin supporting the browser. Fortunately this is the most standards compliant Microsoft browser in recent years, simplifying the task of supporting it alongside other modern web browsers.

I expect to see limited effect on Internet Explorer 6, which now has negligible and continually declining market share anyway. By my website reporting under 5% of Australian web users now use IE6. Wikipedia articles indicate (drawing from various reports) a similar trend, with IE6 in February 2009 accounting for only 18.85% of the 68% of computers using IE - making its overall share around 12% internationally.

IE6 is also very much a 9-5 web browser, used primarily in government agencies and libraries, which are more resistant to rapid software upgrades due to their security frameworks. Once government agencies move away from IE6 due to Microsoft withdrawing support for the browser I expect it will largely disappear, removing the need for many code hacks and saving significant development costs for organisations.

Most larger private companies are happily using Internet Explorer 7 and while they are likely to adopt Internet Explorer 8 at some point, they are more likely to follow a wait and see approach to ensure the product is stable and secure before upgrading.

In overall terms, IE is at its lowest market share since 2004, with only around 68-74% of internet users now using the browser. I do not see IE8 reversing this decline to any measurable extent and I am willing to predict that we could see IE's share declining into the sub 66% range by the end of 2009.

This would still leave IE the dominant web browser overall, however Firefox may have close to equivalent share with IE7, making it just as important.

Apple is getting closer to launching Safari 4, with a public beta now available for both Mac and PC.

The new version appears from my testing to be less of a jump for coders (therefore has less of an impact on business management of websites), with Safari 4 appearing to largely extend the features of the already very standards compliant Safari 3.

As Safari is still primarily regarding as a browser for the Mac, I expect Safari 4 will experience a fairly rapid growth replacing Safari 3, but will have very limited impacts on browser shares across non-Apple platforms.

As Apple continues to grow, particularly in the mobile space, there will be some growth from the current 4-8% market share (depending whose reports you believe), however it would take inroads on the PC front to see this browser grow significantly into the double digits range.

Firefox is continuing to pick up market share from Internet Explorer, now holding 18-22% of the market according to reports featured in Wikipedia.

The browser continues to be highly standards friendly and has a huge groundswell of support despite a few intermittent speed bugs in several recent releases.

I predict that Firefox will reach 25% market share by the end of 2009, which could take it almost to parity with IE7 use by that time.

Ignore Firefox at your peril.

Despite being lightening fast in running web-based applications, Google's new Chrome browser does not appear to be gaining significant uptake.

It currently sits at slightly over 1% of the market by most measures and in my view it has failed to capture the popular imagination.

I've spoken to a number of people who've said that Chrome just doesn't look familiar enough as a web browser, indicating to me that aesthetics may be more important than its super fast javascript engine.

Given that Google introduced this browser to encourage others to improve the speed of their engines (in order to run Google web applications faster and cut down speed differences with desktop applications), I don't think Google is worried about the take-up rate at this time.

The browser is on a rapid development curve, with around 30 incremental updates since release, but still doesn't support some key web features and doesn't render all sites correctly (I have troubles with managing my blog with it - ironic given I use a Google blog tool).

I expect that when (if) Google really wants to push adoption it will engage its marketing muscle to do so, then we might see rapid take-up, however this will most likely occur at the expense of Firefox and Opera before it impacts on IE.

I am beginning to feel that Opera is the 'nice guy' of the browser industry. In other words, it will finish last.

While the browser has had significant success on non-Apple mobile platforms, its overall browser market share remains around 0.7% and has been stable for most of the last year.

For whatever reason Opera hasn't managed to convince users that it has a unique selling proposition and given the competition across the browser market at present I don't see it coming up with anything new quickly enough to prevent others copying the feature and capitalising on the benefits.

What do I use?
Personally I use all of the browsers above, with Firefox my preferred browser for web surfing and Chrome for web-applications (such as Gmail and Google Docs). IE has a place as a secondary browser, but I rarely open Safari or Opera except when testing sites.


  1. I have not tested Safari among the list but so far I've been using Mozilla Firefox. It's a very good browser. I rarely use IE now it's so slow surfing the net. I don't know if that's what other users are experiencing too.

  2. I like Chrome, but there are no gadgets or add-ons (yet) compared to Firefix. But is is by far the quickest browser!