Which Web browser is most important? Firefox is rapidly growing. Ancient versions of Microsoft Internet Explorer are still more important than the fashionable new toys. When Web developers tell you to optimise your Web site for certain Web browsers, they are probably wrong.
A look through your Web logs will also tell you that Web crawlers, from search engines and endless other businesses, are eating your bandwidth and probably stealing your intellectual property.
Who is represented in the analysis? The table at the end of this article lists the most popular Web browsers from recent visits to some Web sites viewed by business managers, information technology managers, people interested in the best use of the latest technology, people after the most sustainable uses of technology, Web developers, and people in small businesses where everybody is involved in keeping the business efficient, effective, and profitable. There are a lot of Web sites oriented to people who decorate Web sites, theme developers, and related people. Those sites tend to distort Web browser usage figures because one brand of computer has an unusually high usage in that market and it is a brand that tries to replace every application with one from their own brand. Those non representational sites are excluded from the statistics.
The input is from English language sites visited by people from almost every country in the world. The visitors from non English speaking countries tend to be people who are introduced to the Web during their study at university or while developing export markets.
Firefox on the rise
The source data includes covers one to two months from each site. Firefox and all the other variations of Mozilla browsers used to score lower than the most popular Internet Explorer. Today Firefox, without any other Mozilla browser, has pushed out Internet Explorer.Why Firefox?
- Many of the visitors work on multiple computers and Firefox is the one Web browser they can install at any time on every computer.
- The Web sites they are visiting are all tested with Firefox but only some versions of Internet Explorer. If any of the Web pages fail to work in any version of Internet Explorer, the visitors can view the pages cleanly in Firefox.
- The sites promote the use of Firefox for improved security and many visitors install Firefox as a second browser specifically for visiting sites on the Web. Internet Explorer is relegated to the browser for their corporate site and intranet.
- The sites promote the testing of Web sites in Firefox and many Web site owners install Firefox for testing their sites.
- The sites promote the use of Firebug and other Firefox add ons, leading to a big uptake in Firefox usage.
- Mozilla users appear to upgrade to the latest release far faster than Internet Explorer users, leading to a rapid replacement of old Mozilla and AOL variations with Firefox.
Firefox contains a couple of copyright images and some Linux distributions use Iceweasel instead of Firefox to avoid the copyright issue. Iceweasel is Firefox with some names and logos replaced but it is usually an old version of Firefox. We know Firefox users want the latest version. It is easy to replace Iceweasel with Firefox in most Linux distributions. Clearly very few people are willing to use an old version of Firefox just because the Firefox developers copyrighted their Firefox logo.
We are talking about the product from Apple, not the iPhone on sale for more than ten years before Apple ripped off the name, or the many HTC touch screen computers containing telephones that were available years before Apple decided to produce a clone. Apple iPhone usage for Web browsing is trivial because Apple iPhone users tend to use the built in applications, music etc, and browse the Web using their notebooks.
If you want to service Apple iPhone users, you have to do strange things to your Web site. The easiest way to do those strange things is to convert your Web site to Drupal and use the Drupal facilities for handling Apple iPhones.
Internet Explorer 2
Everyone says old versions of Internet Explorer are dead but version 2 from 1996 is still alive because good quality hardware lasts ten years or more and there is no reason to replace good old hardware when all you do is browse the Web. A top of the line computer form 1996 would still be faster and more powerful than the cheaper notebooks of today. Fast Ethernet was available in 1995 and Fast Ethernet is faster than the fastest ADSL+. A good disk from back then was faster than the slow stuff used in low cost notebooks. The whole lot could be transferred to a virtual machine and used for another 100 years. There is no such thing as dead in the Web.
Internet Explorer 5 and 5.5
Internet Explorer 5 was a horrible Web browser made to look good only by comparing it to the disastrous Internet Explorer 5.5. Internet Explorer 6 was better than both 5 and 5.5 but did things so differently that Web sites broke in Internet Explorer 6. You can see the difference between Internet Explorer and Firefox. Internet Explorer users hate upgrading because the upgrade often makes many things worse.
Internet Explorer 5 rate up there along side several trendy new Web browsers and Internet Explorer 5.5 out ranks them. When you Web designer tells you to dismiss all Internet Explorers before Internet Explorer 7 and spend a lot of time on a lot of fancy new fads, go and look at what your customers are actually using. Notebook computers might be designed to break frequently so you have to upgrade every year but desktop computers hang in there with their old software for a long time.
Web crawlers copy your Web site for use in search engines and masses of other applications. Some simply copy your whole site in an act of piracy that has never been tested in the court. Early legal fights against the crawlers failed largely because the crawler owners had lots of money to fight the legal cases and used the collected data only for a small visible range of uses. After they won the court cases, they were free to use the pirated data for almost anything. A huge number of duplicate companies exploded on to the market and it is almost impossible to keep up with all the people ripping off your work.
One of the really annoying things, for a Web site owner, is the massive duplication. Many of the crawlers have common owners who allow duplicate crawling. Yahoo own Inktomi and a bunch of other brands. You would think Yahoo would visit your site once and collect each page once then extract the various types of information for each Yahoo brand. No, Yahoo lets all their brands perform separate searches. You can have several Yahoo crawlers duplicating and triplicating access to your Web site every night.
The American crawlers often crawl during the American off peak time of day which is the peak time of day in Australia, creating a painful competition for resources on your Web site.
Now is the time for all Web site owners to ban crawlers from any company that duplicates crawls. Yahoo appear to be the worst case and should be targeted first. After they clean up their act, the other crawling companies will change. Many of the smaller crawlers should be made to share data so that they crawl only once.
There is a company that claims to fight piracy on the Web by finding pirated content but looking at the way they crawl, they must be pirating Web content to build their comparison database.
Of the individual crawlers, Google visit your site most often because they crawl the Web more frequently but they appear use one crawl for everything. Collectively the other crawlers do more damage and there is lots of duplication among them.
Lynx and Links are two text oriented Web browsers that do not appear in the statistics. Put them on your list anyway. They see the Web in a way similar to screen readers used by visually impaired people. Some mobile phones have simple Web browsers that highlight some of the access problems faced by visually impaired people. You should test with this type of browser or have visually impaired people test your site. If visually impaired people are not visiting your site, it may be because they try and fail. Improve their access next time you rework your Web site.
The Blackberry used to be the quiet berry of the Web with Blackberry usage restricted to email. Now Blackberries are available with all the features of the old HTC touch screen computer phones and the Apple iPhone clone. Expect the tens of millions of existing Blackberry users to upgrade to new Blackberries instead of iPhones and hit the Web in full force.
Blackberries support a slightly different range of features to the Apple iPhone and need a slightly different presentation. You need a simple presentation for mobile phones, a simple but different presentation for Apple iPhones, and Blackberries vary from the standard mobile phone through to the complications of the Apple iPhone.
Konqueror has not conquered. Opera used to be both popular and fashionable but now is dying out. Chrome is still a novelty and is growing quickly. A lot of the people who used to push many of the bit players as the
next big thing are now talking Chrome. Firefox will lose sales to Chrome, not new releases of Internet Explorer. Your next Web site upgrade should include testing in Chrome.
Summary Web browsers
This table does not include Web crawlers.
Update March 2010
Looking at a Web site with significant use outside America for March 2010. Counting the almost identical Firefox 3.5 and 3.6 as one browser puts Firefox at number one spot. Using just Firefox 3.5, because the site content contributors use 3.6, places Firefox 3.5 a tiny fraction behind the troublesome Internet Explorer 6. IE 6 still outnumbers IE 7 and IE 8 combined. IE 5 has died. IE 5.5 is almost dead. If only IE 6 would follow.
IE 8, Microsoft's big new browser, was out before Firefox 3.6 but Firefox 3.6 just pushes past IE 8. There are a lot of people installing Firefox along side IE then choosing to use Firefox. There are also all the people who add Linux as a dual boot along side Windows then browse the Web from Linux.
There are the 100 million web site owners who are often told to check their web sites in Firefox before reporting problems then discover Firebug and other add-on modules that make Firefox the better choice. Chrome and several other new browsers are still struggling to compete with the huge range of Firefox add-on modules.