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For more than a decade, I’ve used Net Applications’ NetMarketShare tool to track the desktop browser and operating system markets. The monthly reports have been critical in gauging which browsers and new versions of operating systems are gaining or losing market share. This week, Net Applications released its final NetMarketShare report. The loss could not come at a worse time.
After Chrome cemented its spot as the world’s de facto browser, there hasn’t been a lot of movement. But that might be about to change. Chrome’s creator, Google, is facing the biggest U.S. antitrust case in a generation. Mozilla, which depends on Google for almost all its revenue, is rightly worried about becoming “collateral damage”. All the while, Firefox can’t seem to stop bleeding market share. Conversely, Microsoft is steadily gaining market share thanks to its new Chromium Edge browser, and that’s even before including it in Windows 10. New browsers like Brave are more popular than ever. Oh, and Apple search engine speculation has resurfaced again, leading to questions about the billions of dollars Google pays Apple to be the default search option in Safari.
Defaults matter. The average user, from your grandmother to your colleague working from home, almost never changes their default browser nor their search engine. That in turn affects the bottom lines of tech giants like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, not to mention threatening the very existence of smaller companies like Mozilla. Additionally, browser changes regularly cause scrambles at the millions of businesses that rely on their websites to provide services and sell products.
A permanent loss
Browser market share numbers play a critical role in making business decisions. Nobody successfully launches a web service without making sure it works perfectly in Chrome. Nor does a business roll out a new feature until it works as desired in a critical mass of browsers.
So why is Net Applications killing off NetMarketShare? Don’t act surprised when I tell you the undisputed market leader has something to do with it.
In January, Google proposed deprecating the User-Agent string, which is used to identify helps which browser and operating system is being used, as part of its war on fingerprinting. Net Applications says the change will break NetMarketShare’s device detection technology and “cause inaccuracies for a long period of time.” Add the ongoing problem of filtering out bots to prevent skewing of the result, and Net Applications decided it was best to throw in the towel after 14 years.
Net Applications provided its reports based on data captured from 100 million sessions each month over thousands of websites. Because its data was global, and the company didn’t rely on surveys or tracking components, it was widely considered an accurate source. Net Applications reported what I call user market share — it tracked the browser and operating system of each user. There’s also usage market share — StatCounter looks at 20 billion pageviews every month to determine what browsers and operating systems are used most. A user who visits more pages is still counted as a single user by Net Applications, while StatCounter gives that user more weight in its totals.
I prefer tracking user market share to usage market share, but going from two resources to one is a big blow either way.
Below are Net Applications’ final numbers (reported on October 1, covering September 2020).
Top five desktop browsers:
- Chrome — 69.25%
- Edge — 10.22%
- Firefox — 7.22%
- Internet Explorer — 5.57%
- Safari — 3.40%
Top five desktop operating systems:
- Windows — 87.67%
- Mac OS — 9.42%
- Linux — 2.34%
- Chrome OS — 0.42%
- Unknown — 0.14%
For posterity, here is the full announcement from Net Applications:
After 14 years of service and being used as a primary source in tens of thousands of articles and publications, we are retiring NetMarketShare in its current form. October, 2020 is the last month of data. All billing for existing accounts has been stopped. All outstanding balances are being refunded.
Why? An upcoming change in browsers (https://github.com/WICG/ua-client-hints) will break our device detection technology and will cause inaccuracies for a long period of time.
In addition, we have focused on bot detection and removal as a key part of the quality control process. It is the most complex part of our codebase. As time has gone on, it has become increasingly difficult to manage this process. So, instead of accepting increasing levels of inaccuracy, we thought it would be a good time to call it a day.
NetMarketShare will re-emerge at some point with a focus on ecommerce trends and verifiable user data.
We want to thank everyone who used NetMarketShare over the years. This journey began with reporting on the browser wars, and was one of the most fascinating and fun products anyone could hope to work on.
All the best,
The NetMarketshare Team
I’m glad to see that NetMarketShare will one day return. But without browser and OS data, it won’t be the same.
ProBeat is a column in which Emil rants about whatever crosses him that week.
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