Browser statistics and choices

There’s been a flood of reports, reviews and articles on web browsers lately. And they’ve appeared all over the place - in blogs, in online magazines, and even in printed mainstream newspapers and magazines. Many reviews and articles have been written about the new Mozilla Firefox web browser that’s rapidly increasing its market share.

At the same time, there have been plenty of reports on the security issues involved in using Microsoft’s Internet Explorer. In some countries, like the US, Sweden, and Finland, government authorities have issued warnings against using it, recommending people to use another browser. An interesting development, and while a majority of internet users continue browsing the web with Internet Explorer, that majority is shrinking.

I’ve noticed a clear market share trend in my server logs. There’s been a large decrease in the portion of visitors using Internet Explorer, accompanied by an even larger increase of Firefox users. This is something that I’m very excited to see, as I believe that it paves the way towards a better web. More people using a modern, standards compliant web browser means more incentive for web developers to learn about and use web standards. But I’m also left wondering why so many well-informed and smart people insist on using Internet Explorer.

Statistics can be misleading and hard to interpret, but at least it gives you some numbers to talk about. Here’s how the browser stats have developed over the year for this site:

Browser statistics for 456 Berea Street
Browser January 2004 November 2004
Firefox / Firebird 22.1% 42.0%
Internet Explorer 48.2% 36.2%
Safari 10.8% 7.3%
Mozilla 10.3% 5.7%
Opera 5.4% 4.5%
Netscape 2.0% 2.0%

I’ve only listed user agents that are used by more than one percent of my visitors. There are many, many more than these, but I’ll leave them out of this.

The numbers are adjusted to take into account the fairly large amount of traffic I get from feed readers, search engine spiders, spam robots and the like, since I’m just discussing web browser trends here. Also keep in mind that this site is focused on web standards, so the visitors here are hardly representative of the web as a whole, far from it. But the statistics are still interesting.

Looking at the numbers, there is an obvious trend. For November 2004, Firefox usage is at 42 percent, while IE (all versions for all platforms combined) is used by 36.2 percent. Looking back to January of this year, Firebird (which is what Firefox was called then), was used by 22.1 percent of my visitors, and IE usage was 48.2 percent.

People are switching from Internet Explorer to Firefox. In large numbers, and at an increasing rate. This should not come as a surprise for anyone who knows what features and functionality these browsers have. However, I am quite surprised that it seems like people are also switching from Safari and Opera to Firefox. These are browsers that are in the same league as Firefox, so there is much less reason for anyone to switch from them than from IE.

So where am I going with this? Well, I’m curious. Despite the large number of people switching from IE to Firefox, more than one third of my visitors are still using IE. Granted, out of those some will be using browsers that are spoofing their user agent information to get past stupid browser sniffers, others will be using a browser that is based on IE, and then there will be “real” IE users who have come here more or less by mistake, looking for something else (like physical “sliding doors”, “the doors tabs”, or “street styling”).

Even with that taken into account, there must still be some web designers and developers that are interested in what I write about and come here using Internet Explorer. I’d like to know why! Are you sticking with IE? If so, have you tried another browser? If you haven’t, why? If you have, and still choose to use IE, why? What would convince you to switch to a better, more standards compliant browser?

For those of you not using IE, I’d like to know when you stopped using it (if you ever used it, that is) and why. If you’ve switched to Firefox from Safari or Opera, what made you do that?

To get things started, here’s my web browser history:

The first graphical web browser I used was Mosaic, back in 1994. Later that year, when Netscape was released, I switched. I think the version number was 0.97 or something like that. I can’t remember exactly why I switched. It just seemed better. After that I stuck to Netscape until Internet Explorer 5 was released for the Mac. It was much slicker than the current Netscape (version 4.*) and worked better in many ways, so it became my main browser. I still used Netscape a lot because of its JavaScript console, which was a great help when debugging the massive amounts of JavaScript that every site just had to have around the turn of the century.

I stayed with IE for a while, because there weren’t any better browsers available until Mozilla had matured enough to be usable. When that day came, it was bye bye IE. I used Mozilla as my main browser until just over a year ago when Apple released Mac OS X 10.3, which included the first version of Safari that I felt was good enough to use on a regular basis. Since then I’ve been using that as my main browser. It just feels better.

I do keep Firefox running most of the time as well, and I really like it. For a web developer, Firefox and its big brother Mozilla are indispensable tools. Still, Safari has a slight edge in day-to-day, normal surfing use. Better text rendering, nicer looking form controls, and a cleaner user interface are some advantages it has over Firefox. If the Mozilla team could improve Firefox in those areas, I’d probably use it full-time. But for now, Safari is where I’m at.

So, what’s your story? How did you choose the browser you use? Or did someone else make the choice for you?

Posted on December 1, 2004 in Browsers


  1. One possible explanation for the number of IE users you see could be that people are visiting your site from work, where company policy dictates IE and nothing but.

    At our office site (targeted at Swedish companies), we still see 95+% IE, and only about 2% Mozilla (including Firefox).

    Like you, I started with Mosaic (and Lynx) … oh, those were the days! :) Then it was Netscape 3 and 4, eventually phased out by IE 4, 5.01 and 5.5. Then I found Opera (5.12). Nowadays it’s Mozilla (not FF) for me, both at home and at work. I like Opera, but there are a few minor issues that keeps me from switching. I use it for accessibility testing and stuff, where it’s an excellent tool.

  2. I have a question regarding your statistics - this stat says something about “local market share”, but it doesn’t say anything about the number of users.

    Yesterday, I produced a similar stat for my own site, and while the “local market share” seemed to say “Gecko rendering engine” is the winner, the number of unique users for other browsers remained constant.

    Another question that remains unanswered: Does this stat take into account the overreporting of MSIE?

  3. It’s hard to rely upon statistics for your own sites since on my website Mozilla was 51% last month but usually it’s nearer 25%.

    A less biased answer would come from a popular generic search engine since it they don’t target specific audiences.

    I’ve never really used Microsoft Internet Explorer out of choice but that’s probably because I was brought up on Netscape 3.x and it wasn’t a choice for me at first. Later when I did have the opportunely of using Explorer, I did test with it but it never rendered as fast or was up to the tasks I wanted to perform.

    Though by then it was nearly time for Netscape 6 PR albeit it wasn’t really until Netscape 6.x one was creating that many web pages. I have used various versions of Opera for reasonable lengths of time in conjunction but never liked the interface menus.

  4. Robert: A search engine, like Google, is probably to some extent going to disfavor certain browsers, like IE - since Google search is integrated into other browsers, like Opera and Firefox

  5. I use Firefox on Windows because of the features (both in terms of standards AND usability) and Safari on the Mac (because of its native integration, small start-up time and looks).

    I’ve been using IE prior to switching to Firefox somewhere around 0.9

    Most of the time, the choice of browser is organization-wide so I shouldn’t chastize individual users.

  6. Good question.

    I was a fan of IE for a long time. They seemed to be moving things along quickly for a while, IE 3/4 were good leaps in functionality (but bad from a standards point of view). IE 5 was a pretty decent browser, the opposition by that time wasn’t good enough with Opera too hard to get used to, and anything Mozilla-ish dead in the water. Unfortunately IE was a bit of sitting duck, enter the hijack page. ARGH!

    Then Firefox came along, possibly riding the same wave the iPod started, and was so very easy to get to grips with. It was secure, it followed the standards better, and I can choose what features to add through the extensions.

    I don’t want a browser that adds in a newsreader, email, etc etc, I want something that is quick, and does what I want.

    I think the next big push for Firefox needs to be the corporate installations - a hard battleground to win on but the security factor could be their biggest asset.

    Now, where do we get a fairly ‘unskewed’ set of stats of browser usage? BBC News reported the swing was only a few percent (a couple of weeks back). Sounds about right considering there have only been a few million downloads of Firefox so far.

    Eek. Long comment. Sorry. Brain on auto-pilot.

  7. Now, where do we get a fairly ‘unskewed’ set of stats of browser usage?


  8. I consider my self a pretty safe user, especially when searching the web, but one day I was simple searching Google with my fully updated IE browser on a Win2k box. I clicked on the first relevant search result on Google and was directed to a page that popped all types of windows that would not exit (note: I never clicked ‘Yes’ to install anything).

    Finally after rebooting the system, I learned that the site I visited installed all types of spyware/malware that really destroyed my system. I used Spybot and BHO Daemon, and stoped most of the spyware. Even after updating all of my security settings, spyware was still thriving on my system. I had no choice but to re-format and install.

    After that incident, I have never used IE outside the intranet. I made the switch to Firefox and have been ever so pleased since.

  9. I do prefer the look, and particularly the feel, of Safari on the Mac: but FireFox is much more feature rich. RSS as sidebar bookmarks (I’ve never used an aggregator) and extensions make it for me. It feels like a browser for power users. Safari doesn’t yet.

    Also, clicking on <label>s brings focus to form fields. Safari really should do that.

    I have to work on a Wintel at work, so Firefox also has the cross-browser thing, which is nice. As soon as I get around to exporting my work bookmarks and such, I’ll be Firefox all over.

    Browsers are much more than just HTML/CSS/JavaScript/XSLT rendering engines, y’know…

  10. I started off using netscape .92 all the way to version 3. Once IE4 came out, it was just a more capable browser than anything Netscape had out at the time. N4 was the buggiest piece of crap. I hated having to develop anything in it. Anything remotely complicated seemed to crash the browser. And so I migrated through the IE versions up to version 6. I tried Opera but it didn’t seem to offer anything over IE except ads. So, I finally tried Firefox back at version 0.7. I could see the potential. Web sites were starting to do things that you just couldn’t do in IE. At 0.7, it still lacked the polish that it needed to be my full time browser. Finally, at version 0.9, it became my full time browser. And here I am at 1.0 today.

    I tried to convince my wife to switch to Firefox but there wasn’t a compelling reason for her. Blocking popup ads was the only thing that seemed to interest her… but it hasn’t been enough to get her to switch.

  11. I’m wondering, what do aggregators show up as on that list, or if at all. Could they be contributing to the IE sector?

  12. December 1, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    The numbers shown here have been adjusted slightly. I removed all “unknown” browsers and NetNewsWire. Some aggregators probably identify themselves as IE, and I haven’t used Arve’s method to filter out non-IE browsers identifying themselves as IE. So in reality, the IE numbers should probably be even lower.

  13. Clued up IE users might well be coming in from work. Here, my entire team has Firefox installed, but I’m the only one who has it set as their default browser. The others use it mainly for testing.

    Why? Well, we develop web-based software here, and currently large tracts of our products are only compatible with IE.5.5 or higher. That is changing though, slowly. We’ll get there one day…

  14. December 1, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Regarding many IE users coming here from their work computer, where they’re forced to use IE. That is quite likely the case for some, but I’m hoping there are very few professional web developers out there that aren’t allowed to use other browsers. That would be completely insane, and whoever made that decision should be taken out back and… uh well maybe that’s a bit harsh. But they should be fired.

  15. As stated above I think a large extent of users surf from their companies computers using IE, and that will probably not change in a long time. If the IT department is installing a web browser on 30.000 computers they probably want to call someone if something goes wrong. That would be MS for a long time I think.

    But I also think that a large group is still using IE as private from their home computer. Most people do not care about browsers and they continue not to do that.

    Many times I try to tell people to make the switch but they do not really understand why. I think the only argument they buy is about safety. Things as, webstandards, future proof, png support, tabs, small download … (add you argument) do not bite.

    Human is lazy as default. If there was a FF icon on the desktop, people would use that and care less.

    But also, hope is the last thing that leaves us, hopefully users will start seeing the benefits and starting using a web browser that support web standards better.

  16. In the Australian Government agency I work for, IE is the default, but when I went to our semi-outsourced techie help desk and asked them to create an installation for Firefox, the guy I spoke to just about jumped for joy. He uses Firefox, and he already had an MSI (installer) set up ready to go. I got him to add the DOM inspector, so that the Web Developer Toolbar’s “View Style Information” feature could work; I also got him to add View In IE, which he’d never heard of, but which is the single most effective way of converting IE users over to Firefox.

    AusGov is pretty good about this sort of thing. I saw some super-secret stats on how much of the government uses Microsoft at the server side (hint: it’s not good news, but it’s bearable) but fortunately Open Source stuff is treated with respect. It’s not all bad news.

  17. Roger - they’re quite happy for our little team to use other browsers here. Most of the others don’t use them though. Unfortunately we can’t use Opera because it can’t get through the firewall no matter what we try… :(

  18. December 4, 2004 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Olly: I wasn’t referring to your case specifically, just making a general point about companies where the IT department is allowed to make that kind of ill-informed decisions ;-)

  19. I’m developing on a webapplication at work, and since the majority of the users of that app are MSIE users i need to test in MSIE (Firefox is my default browser though, and i also test in Opera). But when i want to read some blog article i copy paste the url from my rss reader (which runs on my homecomputer in a screen session) into the first browser i encounter with alt-tab.

    I was quite pro-msie in some distant past though, i still think the 3 and 4 versions of msie were way better than netscape 3 & 4. I really like firefox though (and then again, installing msie on linux isn’t very easy ;) )

  20. Started with Lynx, then Mosaic, then Netscape 1, 2 and 3. By then I was a javascript programmer, and life debugging js on IE was hell. So I stuck with developing on Netscape 4 and browsing on IE. Home use, on a Mac, was devoid of IE until 5. That was pretty much my boat until recently: develop on NN4, browse for business on WinIE, browse for pleasure on Mac IE.

    Between 2002 and now, I’ve switched to browsing for pleasure on Safari and developing on Firefox. However, I’m the browser police at work, ensuring that someone here is using Win IE to view our stuff on a daily basis outside of our test phases.

    Why Firefox and not Safari all the time? Developer tools. The extensions are a godsend. The javascript console is a blessing. But Safari feels better, so that’s where I go when I take the tie off.

  21. Hey stop complaining about companies that do not offer anything but IE! Firefox is able to run without installing so that no administration privilege is required. Just copy the installation directory from your home PC and launch firefox.exe. Firefox will import IE settings and will then be able to surf your Intranet/Internet just as IE does. He is even able to get updated or to install extensions from the web, have a try!

    And spread the word!

    NB: I definitively switched to Firefox more than one year ago. Did not think a browser could be really different from IE initially, but now I know!

  22. I think you are a little over enthusiastic about the percentage of Firefox-users…

    Check out these stats:

    The reason why web-designers/-developers still use IE is simple… because their clients do.

    I am a PC/Mac/Linux users and I love my Powerbook and Firefox but as a web-developer I need to have a PC with XP and IE as well.

    When I help my friends and family to install their computers I always download Firefox and tell them to try it out, otherwise they wouldn´t even know that it existed. On the Mac platform Apple doesn´t include the Explorer icon in the dock (of course) and Firefox isn´t even installed so the only browser the common users gets on a Mac is Safari…

  23. January 4, 2005 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Christian: Yes, statistics will vary from site to site. But the trend is the same, at least in every report I’ve seen recently: IE use is decreasing, while Firefox is gaining ground.

    As for web professionals using IE because their clients do… well, yes, you obviously need to check your work in it, but why any well-informed web professional would want to use IE as their main browser is beyond me. It doesn’t exactly do their credibility a whole lot of good.

    Apple really should remove IE from the default Panther installation — anyone that needs it (like web developers, though not for much longer) should have to do a custom install. And Safari being the only browser for non-expert Mac users is not a problem. It is an excellent browser.

  24. I think I’m a bit different from most of your visitors, being a long time dedicated pc and IE fan. But I also know that’s because I am as humans are the most: if you at some point have a firm believe in something, then it’s very hard to change your opinion on that - especially if you get used to using that. And old habits truly are hard to break.

    Luckily for me, I started building webpages, and was forced to look at some alternatives. And after having used FF for a very short time, it became my default browser. And I think it would be the case for most people that was given a chance to use it, but they don’t do it by themselves just “to try out something else”.

    But I have no doubt in the fact that FF will become much more common over time. But your average home user with no technical interest will probably stick with the IE for some time…just bad luck for them.

    And let’s give a round of applause to the FF team for a great browser - keep up the good work.

  25. May 2, 2006 by Gustavo

    how about Camino for the mac, dont you think its better than safari?

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