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The new Internet craze: splitting hairs over fractional Web browser market share changes

In recent months you may have noticed a surge of posts by popular, authoritative tech sites on the topic of Web browser market shares. They all take roughly the same format: a bold title about how one browser is losing ground, a graph with almost-straight lines that neither educates or enlightens, and to finish, an impossibly ludicrous prediction about what we can expect next month. This is not news.

In the last two years, there has only been one new browser: Google Chrome. Ready for the mindblowing bit? It is gaining market share! Hold on while I steady my shaking hands. I know what you're thinking: a new piece of software, created by one of the biggest and most important companies in the world -- why is it gaining market share?! WHAT IS THIS MADNESS?

In the last two years, there is only one definitive trend: Internet Explorer is losing market share and Chrome is gaining it. No combination of pretty pie charts or line graphs can support any other conclusion.

And therein lies the problem: every single source of Web browser statistics, and thus every graph, is different. In true tabloid, Fox Newsesque fashion, just pick a data set that suits your editorial style and roll with it -- who cares if it's news, who cares if it's accurate.

Fortunately, for those of us that still retain the most basic levels of critical analysis and cognitive sentience, this is the Internet! A wealth of information on the true state of the browser war -- and freedom from the dominion of hyperbolic, viral blogs -- is just a few clicks away.

We should begin, as always with Internet research, with the excellent Wiki resource on the Usage share of Web browsers. Not only does the Wiki page have up-to-the-month figures from every major Web analytics company, but you can also see comparative, side-by-side statistics.

According to W3Counter, Firefox has had a static (31%) market share for almost two and a half years. StatCounter and OneStat seem to agree, while others such as Net Applications and Stat Owl put Firefox's share nearer 20%.

Did you know that Firefox (13.5%) had a larger percentage market share after its first two years than Chrome (7.5%)? Even better, if you go back to when Internet Explorer first waged war against Netscape Navigator, it gained almost 40% of the market in just two years!

But other than very long, steady trends, I'm finding it hard to draw any conclusions because the data sets vary by such an incredible extent. The data, I am certain, comes from different parts of the Internet, and also from different parts of the world. Look at StatCounter Europe -- almost 40% use Firefox! I wonder what the browser share is like in Asia, where almost half of the Internet's population resides. I can't imagine there are many old or big corporations out there that are still stuck with Internet Explorer 6 -- there's probably a lot of Firefox and Chrome out there.

The worst thing, though, is that tech blogs are all but ignoring the most important statistic: the rate at which the Internet is growing. 200,000,000 new users connected between 2009 and 2010, so when Internet Explorer 'sits' at 60% (or 50% or 40%, depending on the graph), that means that this year alone around 100 million people installed IE8. Firefox, to keep its 30% (or 20%) share will have been installed by around 50 million new users. Chrome has certainly carved out a slice of the pie, but it's important to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Let's not forget that 270 million new smartphones will be sold around the world in 2010 -- I know Firefox and Opera have their eyes on that market, but what about Chrome and Internet Explorer?

As a parting thought, almost every one of those new Internet users come from the Middle East, Africa and Asia. I would love to see some browser market share statistics from Iran, India, Japan and big ol' China...

Tags: browser wars, BrowserWars, chrome, firefox, google, internet explorer, InternetExplorer, microsoft, mozilla, opera, web browser, WebBrowser