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