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Lies, damn lies and browser market share

Internet & BroadbandFollowing Mozilla's announcement that its Firefox web browser has reached one billion downloads, some analysts are claiming Firefox controls 32 percent of the browser market. Well, perhaps. But the methods used to calculate market share for web browsers are dubious, and their results frequently biased.

Some research firms, for example, actually report that Firefox has closer to 50 percent of the market, and has taken the lead from Microsoft's Internet Explorer. Why the discrepancy? The problem lies in how and where the statistical information is gathered. Websites can determine with some accuracy which browser is being used to connect with the site, but the validity of the statistics is tainted by the quantity and types of sites being monitored.

Gathering browser statistics from sites focused on Mac or Linux or advanced security topics is likely to produce poor results for Internet Explorer. Internet Explorer, after all, isn't available for the Mac or Linux OS, and some users cite security as their primary reason for not using Microsoft's browser. Similarly, gathering statistics from more consumer-oriented sites is likely to yield higher IE results because the majority of consumers are probably using the Windows operating system and the built-in IE browser - at least for the moment.

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Apple recently reported that its latest Safari web browser had been downloaded more than 11 million times, but the statistic relied heavily on a prompted update pushed out to existing users. Many of the users who had received the download may rely on other browsers, such as Firefox or Opera as their primary web browser and never give Safari a second thought.

The same can be said for the dominant browser on the market: Internet Explorer. Because it has been included with Windows as far back as memory serves it could be argued that the market share for Internet Explorer is skewed. In essence every Windows PC has Internet Explorer whether it is being used or not.

For a web browser, a billion downloads is a pretty remarkable feat. I agree that the browser playing field is becoming more level, and products such as Firefox, Opera and Google Chrome are offering solid competition to Internet Explorer's established dominance. I simply question the motives behind these studies, and find the accuracy of the results to be dubious at best in some cases.

See also:

Firefox downloads to exceed 1 billion

Mozilla Firefox 3.5 review

Internet Explorer 8.0 review

Apple Safari 4 review

Google Chrome 2.0 review

Opera 9.5 review

FAQ: Microsoft's browser 'ballot screen'

Tony Bradley is an information security and unified communications expert. He blogs for PC World

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