browsers

In fog of browser wars, the victor varies with the metrics

In a classic example of lies, damn lies, and statistics, two research companies have released studies showing completely different leaders in the browser war.

According to NetMarketShare, Internet Explorer had more than half (56.9 percent) the market share in browsers in May. Meanwhile, market watcher StatCounter calculated that Chrome was top dog in May, with more than 40 percent of the market.

Why the discrepancy? It's all in how the two outfits calculate their numbers.

Methods, meanings vary

NetMarketShare, which bases its numbers on traffic to about 40,000 sites, measures unique visits to those sites. No matter how many times you visit one of those sites during a day, the company will count it as one visit. It also weighs its numbers by region, so browser usage from countries that typically produce more web traffic will have a greater impact on NetMarketShare's numbers.

netmarketshare browsers may 2013
NetMarketShare bases its report on the number of unique visits to about 40,000 sites.

StatCounter, which samples data from some three million websites, uses page views to calculate a browser's market share, so users may be counted multiple times when they visit a website monitored by the firm. StatCounter's numbers are also "raw." It doesn't weight the findings or apply other manipulation to correct the figures for data-gathering anomalies.

statcounter browsers may 2013
StatCounter uses page-view data from about three million websites to calculate a browser's market share.

Both methods have pluses and minuses, but the bottom line is that market share means different things to the two companies.

An ongoing skew is that Internet Explorer comes with every copy of Windows. A user needs to make an affirmative choice to install and run another browser—especially in the U.S.

In Europe, however, Microsoft settled charges of anticompetitive business practices pursued by the European Commission by agreeing in 2009 to install browser choice screens with a menu selection of browsers.

And, as always, already having a large market share helps build a larger one. Users of the popular Gmail service by Google are frequently invited to try its Chrome browser.

Newer versions of IE are gaining traction

Within the context of their different methodologies, the browser-counters identified some interesting trends for May.

NewMarketShare uncovered progress by Internet Explorer toward the newest version of the browser. It found IE 10's market share (9.26 percent) finally passed the combined share of the two oldest versions of the application in the market: IE 6 (6.03 percent) and IE 7 (1.78 percent).

The market share for the latest version of Microsoft's browser, though, still has a ways to go to catch up with IE 8 (22.99 percent) and IE 9 (15.39 percent).

Differing pictures of Chrome's progress

NetMarketShare also shows IE, Firefox, Safari, and Opera gaining market share in May, while Chrome's share dropped slightly to 15.74 percent from 16.35 percent—trailing IE and Firefox.

StatCounter's May numbers tell a different story. It shows Chrome with the largest share of the browser market (41.38 percent), an increase over April's share (39.15 percent), and trailed by IE  and Firefox.

It also shows April to May declines in market share for IE (27.72 from 29.71 percent), Firefox (19.76 from 20.06 percent), Safari (7.96 from 8.0 percent), and Opera (1.0 from 1.01 percent).

Any way you slice the numbers, Explorer and Chrome appear to be the browsers to beat, with Firefox also in the running.The real winner of this browser war could be users, who stand to benefit as competitors upgrade features to stay in the game.

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