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Browser Trends

Written By: langdon on May 17, 2007 No Comment

Browser Trends 

This discusses trends in the usage of the major families of browsers.

Summary

1% or more use each of the following: Gecko-based browsers, KHTML-based browsers, Internet Explorer 5-7, and Opera.

Note: total IE numbers started dropping in mid-2004 as users switched to the Gecko based browsers.

Note: data from several sources suggest that ~0.2% of page accesses are by users with mobile devices, e.g. cellphones, with the numbers growing fairly quickly.

The Curse of Yesterday’s Browsers

Many people don’t use the latest version of their browser, even when what they use is way out-of-date and has serious security defects. For example, a study of one stats source in Nov 2006 revealed that only 12% of IE5 users were using the latest version of IE 5, that only 59% of Netscape 7 users were using the latest version of Netscape 7, and that only 30% of Opera 8 users were using the latest version of Opera 8. This means that testing only with the latest version of a browser may not be adequate: e.g. when testing a site with IE5, one should test with both IE 5.01 and IE 5.5.

Recommendation

A good way to ensure that sites will work for as many users as possible is to (a) design sites to the HTML, CSS, DOM, and other standards, (b) to test sites with common browsers that implement these standards well, and (c) to tweak the sites so that they work well enough for antique browsers still in common use.

Details

The percentage of users using each browser depends a lot on the site. The percentages listed here are, at best, guesses as to which browsers ‘typical’ users are using, and in any case, what matters most is not the exact percentage using which browser, but rather which browsers are used by enough people that sites should support these browsers. You should use the stats for your site, and remember that, if few people are using a particular browser, it may be that the browser is so obsolete that few use it, or it may be that you aren’t adequately supporting the browser, and its users are going elsewhere.

       Gecko-Based Browsers (Camino, Firefox, Mozilla, Netscape 6-8, SeaMonkey, etc.): The reported percentage of users varies a lot, largely because different sites attract different types of users. I suggest that ~14% typically use Gecko browsers, but many more use Gecko browsers on sites that attract people who are more aware of the alternatives. The percentage of users may be increasing, but very slowly.

       KHTML-Based Browsers (Konqueror, OmniWeb 4.5+, Safari, etc.): I suggest that ~3% typically use KHTML browsers — the great majority being Safari users — with the number likely to rise slowly as more OS X users switch to Safari, especially since Microsoft has abandoned IE for Mac operating systems: however, the fact that only ~4% use OS X puts a cap on how many will eventually use Safari.

       Microsoft Internet Explorer: Roughly 79% use IE-based browsers, down from a high of ~94% as users switched to other browser families — mainly Gecko and KHTML. About 25% use IE7, with its percentage growing slowly. Most use IE6, with its percentage decreasing slowly as users switch to IE7 and other browsers. Many use IE5, with the number shrinking as users upgrade or switch; IE5 will remain a factor for several years, especially since IE7 cannot be installed on Windows older than XP SP2. Browsers older than IE5 may generally be considered extinct.

       Opera: The reported percentage of users varies a lot, and is likely under-reported because many stats sources wrongly identify Opera as Internet Explorer, Mozilla, or Netscape; one survey in Mar 2006 revealed that 76% of Opera users had configured it to identify it as Internet Explorer. I suggest that ~1% typically use Opera browsers, with the number changing little. Browsers older than Opera 8 may generally be considered to be extinct.

       Mobile Browsers: Few people use mobile browsers, e.g. with cellphones, but the numbers are growing fairly quickly. Site designers will have to seriously consider making their sites friendly to these browsers.

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