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January 19th, 2012

2011 Web Browser Winners and Losers

A lot of the pain fun of my job is providing consistent user experiences between the major browsers. The major browsers can be different for each client so we take user analytics and client preference as our guiding beacon. For this article we are not taking into account mobile browsing so the Big Three are Internet Explorer, Firefox and Chrome with Safari and Opera maintaining a presence.

Biggest Winner

Chrome (+10.8% -> 34.6%) – Chrome started the year at 23.8% and in just 12 months has jumped to 34.6%, only 3.1% short of overtaking Firefox. It was another solid year for Chrome, who gained 11.6% in 2010. The highlight of the year for Chrome had to be in April when it finally surpassed Internet Explorer for #2. What’s the key to success for Chrome? One could argue that its commitment to standards and quick adoption of emerging technologies like CSS3 make it a favorite among users and developers. Since it’s inception in late 2008, Chrome is up to it’s 17th version. Can you hear me back there IE9? Automatic updates keep users current for the most part, something IE is just now implementing.

Biggest Loser*

Internet Explorer (-6.4% -> 20.2%) – Internet Explorer was like that old dynasty team full of old players that are in so deep that their only options were sticking it out or gutting the entire team. They actually managed to do both. They hung on to IE6 for way too long, appeased some with IE7 and then made some strides with IE9. Finally they accepted that if they want to be a modern browser, they have to start acting like a modern browser. So they completely gutted their original engine, thank you, and started embracing standards. IE9 is a modern browser. It still lacks a few bells and whistles that Chrome and Firefox have but the foundation is there. IE10 is full of promise and CSS3 goodness that teases developers while they wait for IE legacy users to upgrade. The rise of Windows 7, which is required for IE9+, will fuel the ‘revolution.’ Windows 7 gained steam, up +15% in 2011 compared to -11% from other Windows versions. So while IE conceded quite a bit this year, they are poised to regain some of their prestige.

Still the One… For Now

Firefox (-5.1% -> 37.7%) – Firefox worked so hard to overtake IE in early 2009 and saw their best share at 47.7% in May of that year. At first Chrome seemed to be stealing share from just IE but then slowly Firefox’s share started to dwindle. It’s been a much slower decline for Firefox, who has been among the pioneers of standards and CSS3 adoption. 2011 ended with Firefox holding a slim 3.1% edge over Chrome, with the two heading in opposite directions. So what’s to blame? That’s not as easy to pick out as IE’s case. Memory leaks or a bloated browser turned some (me) off for a seemingly lighter Chrome browser. Maybe it just lacks the sexiness of a new(ish) browser like Chrome. It’s hard to pinpoint but at this rate they will be sitting at #2 in 2012.

Did we learn anything today? I hope so. For a more detailed breakdown of the stats, check out the w3schools.

About the Author
Pete Schiebel is the lead front-end developer for the Platforms team, described by some here as the "front end MacGyver" for how he works to make sure client projects look and function as advertised. Follow him on Twitter @sneakepete.

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