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Quick Note: Browser Wars

April 3, 2012

Today’s Note highlights “Internet Explorer market share surges, as IE 9 wins hearts and minds” on ArsTechnica.com. The article explores market share among popular browsers. The article sets the tone by telling us that “The browser wars are back on in earnest. For the second time in three months, Internet Explorer made large gains, picking up almost 1 point of market share. Chrome, Firefox, and Safari all lost out, as Internet Explorer 9 won over new users.” [italics added by me to quotes from the article]

The article is filled with interesting graphs that show an uptick in IE market share over the past few months. But it also notes that the methodology of measuring market share can be skewed by browser features, such as pre-rendering. This passage is worth reading carefully:

This is a strong performance from Microsoft, though it may come as a surprise to many. In mid-March, Web analytics firm StatCounter announced that Chrome had overtaken Internet Explorer for the first time ever: on Sunday March 18th, for one day only, Chrome was the number one browser. This seems at odds with Internet Explorer’s growth and Chrome’s decline.

StatCounter, however, is recording something slightly different from Net Marketshare, the numbers we use for our monthly look at the browser war. StatCounter measures raw unadulterated pageviews. It doesn’t attempt to make any corrections for pre-rendering (Chrome will render pages ahead of time if it thinks that the user will look at them, boosting its number of pageviews), it doesn’t attempt to count unique visitors, and it doesn’t attempt to use geographical weighting to account for uneven visitor demographics (some sites are more popular in the US than China, for example, so their browser usage will tend to be more representative of American users than Chinese ones).

The article goes on to break down where the gains seem to come from: “the numbers suggest that Internet Explorer 8 users are switching to Internet Explorer 9 in relatively large numbers, particularly on Windows 7: 34.5 percent of Windows 7 users are using Internet Explorer 9.” It also talks a little about what might be driving this trend: “microsoft has been vigorously promoting Internet Explorer 9, most recently with a campaign that encourages nerds to give Internet Explorer a second chance; the latest part in a broader campaign to educate users and explain to them that Internet Explorer 9 really isn’t the same as the much-hated Internet Explorer 6.

This is an interesting look at the dynamics of the browser market in 2012. I think the article is worth a look.

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