Mozilla’s radical overhaul of its financial cornerstone, Firefox, has so far failed in its primary mission, to stop the slide in browser share, new data published Sunday showed.
According to new numbers from California-based analytics vendor Net Applications, Firefox lost six-tenths of a percentage point of user share in March. That was the largest decline in almost two years, excepting November 2017, when Net Applications revamped its tallies by eliminating fraudulent bot traffic from its data.
Firefox’s user share — an estimate of the portion of the world’s personal computer owners who ran the browser in a given period — for March was 10.3%, the lowest since a near-death experience in the summer of 2016, when it plunged to below 8%. At one point — April 2010, to be specific — Firefox accounted for more than a quarter of the globe’s browser share.
More distressing to Mozilla, Firefox’s user share has fallen rather than climbed since the November launch of Quantum, a.k.a. version 57, which the company trumpeted as the “biggest update” since Firefox 1.0 in 2004. Quantum boasted major speed improvements, a redesigned UI (user interface) and a switch to a new add-on framework that necessitated rewrites of all legacy extensions.
In the four months since Quantum’s debut, Firefox has shed 1.1 percentage points, which represented more than a tenth of its end-of-November user share. Only in one of those four months did Firefox add share, and then only a tenth of a percentage point.
If Mozilla cannot stem that user share bleeding, its financial future may be at risk; in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, royalties from Mozilla’s search deals — to make search engine Z or Y the default of the browser — accounted for a whopping 91% of its total income. If the browser continues to shed users, search firms such as Google, the current default for the browser in many regions, will have less reason to pay for the privilege.
(On the bright side, Mozilla had nearly $400 million in cash, cash equivalents and investments at the end of 2016, or enough to run the organization for more than a year at the then-current spending levels.)
Firefox’s immediate future may be rough: If the trend of the last four months continues, the browser will drop under the 10% bar sometime in May, and under 9% in August. That’s not certain of course — Firefox has clawed out of user share holes before, if only temporarily — but the overall trend has been downward.
Apple’s Safari also lost substantial user share last month, casting aside four-tenths of a percentage point to end March with 3.9%. The decline was the first for the year.
But Apple has suffered, like its operating system rival Microsoft, from “Chrome Disease.” Safari has, just as has Internet Explorer, lost its once-majority position on its native OS, ceding share to Google’s Chrome browser.
Where once Safari was the browser of choice for as much as two-thirds of those running OS X (the former name for what Apple now calls “macOS”), since late last year, Safari has slipped below the 50% mark on Apple machines. During March, for example, Safari was the primary browser on 46% of all Macs.
The obvious beneficiary of Safari’s decline? Chrome. While it’s impossible to prove that’s the case with Net Applications’ public data, the increase in Chrome’s user share over the last two years — it was the only browser to continuously grow share during that period — points to it, not to the other cross-platform choice, Firefox.
The remaining major browsers — Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) and Edge, and Google’s Chrome — gained share last month.
Microsoft’s IE and Edge combined to post a user share of 17.9%, a month-over-month increase of about half a percentage point. That was the third boost to IE+Edge since Net Applications markedly downgraded their numbers in November when it scrubbed bot traffic from its data. But as Computerworld pointed out a month ago, Microsoft will soon face an Edge-only world that may have a huge impact on its position in the browser battle.
Already labeled a legacy browser for Windows 10, where it’s relegated to rendering stagnant enterprise intranet pages and can’t-be-or-won’t-be upgraded apps, IE will fall off Windows 7’s support when that OS gets its walking papers in January 2020. Users will still be able to run IE on Windows 10, but that’s likely to be an increasingly smaller number as corporations revamp their online sites and apps to accommodate more modern browsers.
There’s little evidence that that modern browser will be Edge: Microsoft’s newest ran on just 13.2% of all Windows 10 personal computers last month, according to Net Applications. Although the number was one-and-a-half percentage points higher than February’s, the truth is that Edge has been on a decline since its introduction, when it was the first choice of nearly 40% of all Windows 10 users.
When Edge becomes Microsoft’s sole browser, more or less, there is a very good chance that the Redmond, Wash. developer will account for a share in the single digits. Even if Windows 10’s PC penetration doubled, Edge would, by March’s figure, be the browser on fewer than 9% of the world’s personal computers.
Chrome also accumulated more user share last month, gaining three-tenths of a percentage point to rack up a record 60.9%. At its 12-month growth trend, Chrome should crack 62% by September and 63% by early 2019.
Net Applications calculates user share by detecting the agent strings of the browsers people use to visit its clients’ websites. It then tallies the various browsers, accounting for the size of each country’s online population to better estimate share in regions where it lacks large numbers of analytics customers.