As we kick off 2011, it seems like a good time to look back on the ebb and flow of browser market share during the past year. Each month when new market share stats are released vendors spin them this way or that to portray their own browser in the best possible light, but looking at the big picture over the course of a year is more telling.
So, what happened with browsers in 2010? A lot. Internet Explorer 8 remains the flagship browser version for Microsoft, but it also introduced the public beta of Internet Explorer 9 which has been downloaded more than 20 million times in about three months. Meanwhile, Google's Chrome browser started out 2010 on version 3.0, and closed out the year at version 10.0--quite a few major releases for a single year.
Overall, Chrome was the big winner for 2010. As Internet Explorer and Firefox both lost market share overall, Chrome nearly doubled its piece of the pie.
Doubling is a relative measurement, though. Doubling your money sounds impressive, but if you only had a dollar to begin with it's not quite as significant. While Internet Explorer lost more market share than Chrome gained, Chrome's nearly 100 percent gain represents less than a 10 percent drop in Microsoft's total.
While Internet Explorer--taken as a combined whole--has dropped off more than 5 percent during 2010, looking beneath those stats to the separate versions of the browsers paints a slightly different picture. Internet Explorer 6 dropped nearly seven percent, and Internet Explorer 7 fell off almost six percent. Meanwhile, though, Internet Explorer 8 has consistently been the single leading browser and has often experienced the biggest gain in market share month to month. IE8 gained nearly 8 percent over the year--jumping from 25.17 percent at the beginning of 2010 to 33.02 percent in the current numbers.
It is more difficult to examine browsers like Chrome or Firefox in a similar light. While Internet Explorer has only had three official releases over the last decade and is still struggling to wean people off of the archaic Internet Explorer 6, Chrome had seven major releases just in 2010. The variety of versions, and the frequency at which new versions are released make it unlikely that any single version can gain significant market share before a new version is released to start sapping away users.
Apple's Safari Web browser gets honorable mention as well. As the fourth place browser overall, it also had a net gain in market share over the year. If Chrome continues to gain five percent per year, and Internet Explorer continued to shed five percent per year, Chrome could pass IE as the leading browser by 2015. However, Chrome is more likely to cannibalize Firefox market share first, and the trend probably won't continue that strongly in Chrome's favor.
Besides, now we have Rockmelt.