Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Rise of Google Chrome

The Google Chrome web browser has continued to gain in popularity since most of us first heard about it. Daniel Cawrey's blog post w3schools: Chrome Has Surpassed Ten Percent Share points out that W3Schools's Browser Statistics Month by Month shows the Chrome browser being used for 10.8% of visits to that web site in January 2010. In that same month, Microsoft Internet Explorer accounted for 36.2% of visits (14.3% MSIE 8, 11.7% MSIE 7, and 10.2% MSIE 6) and Mozilla Firefox accounted for 46.3% of visits.

The numbers reported by W3Schools (especially the totals of 46.3% for Firefox, 36.2% for MSIE, and 10.8% for Chrome) are not exactly what one would expect to see in the general web browsing population and this difference reflects the specialized web development focus of the W3Schools audience. Knowing that the audience of people who would read my blog or come to it from a search engine would be similarly slanted in terms of which browsers were used, I was curious to see exactly which browsers are most popular for visitors to my blog. I used Google Analytics to determine the following numbers for viewers of my blog in January 2010: Firefox 57%, Chrome 20%, Internet Explorer 10%, Safari 5.6%, and several others picking up the remaining percentage. These numbers show that Firefox is by far the most dominant browser for people who access my blog and that Chrome makes a very impressive second-place appearance with 20% of the visits.

Neither the W3Schools nor my blog usage are indicative of the general web browsing population. NetMarketShare provides an estimate of more general browser usage and its January 2010 results show Internet Explorer still being the dominant browser by far with Firefox firmly in control of second place followed by Chrome and then Safari. According to NetMarketShare's numbers more than 4 out of every 5 browsers being used is Internet Explorer or Firefox.

The long-term implications of all this remain to be seen, but there are some short-term observations that can be made. Not surprisingly, Chrome and Firefox appear to be far more popular in the software development world (including Java development and web development) than in the general population. For web developers in particular, it has long been frustrating to deal with MSIE's being stubbornly non-standard in many different areas. However, because MSIE has dominated the general web user community, it has been important to write significant non-standard code to support that large set of users. Furthermore, Chrome continues to gain users in both the general public and in the software development communities.

Security concerns related to Microsoft Internet Explorer are not really new, but have recently received renewed focus, including the now frequently cited French and German governments' recommendations to abstain (temporarily) from using MSIE. In a blog post earlier this week called IE Flaw Makes Local Files Public, taranfx states, "The end of Internet Explorer is finally here" and supports this conclusion with a brief account of problems related to use of MSIE that are "forcing users to move to alternatives." This post also provides a link to the BlackHat DC 2010 white paper Abusing Insecure Features of Internet Explorer.

Chrome is not only slowing chipping away at MSIE's usage, but is also taking market share from Firefox. It still remains to be seen how popular Chrome can become. My preference would be for Firefox and Chrome to remain strong alternatives in the browser market. I don't see a lot of benefit from Chrome simply replacing Firefox as an alternative. The best scenario for web developers and web users would be for the browser wars to drive greater standardization at a faster pace.

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