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Chrome and others nibble away IE usage

October statistics show Google's browser eked away the most usage share from dominant Microsoft. Will Firefox reach 25 percent usage by the end of the year?

Stephen Shankland principal writer
Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and writes about processors, digital photography, AI, quantum computing, computer science, materials science, supercomputers, drones, browsers, 3D printing, USB, and new computing technology in general. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces. His first big scoop was about radioactive cat poop.
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Stephen Shankland
2 min read

Google's Chrome is still the fourth-place browser in terms of usage, but it gained more than others in October when it comes to stealing usage away from the dominant Internet Explorer.

According to Net Applications' browser usage share statistics, Chrome gained from 3.2 percent to 3.6 percent from September 2009 to October. The company bases its statistics on visits to a global network of 40,000 Web sites, dusted with some statistical processing.

Next was Mozilla's Firefox, which rose from 23.8 percent to 24.1 percent. Apple's Safari rose from 4.2 percent to 4.4 percent. Opera was essentially flat at 2.2 percent.

The big loser was IE, which dropped from 65.7 percent to 64.6 percent, according to the statistics.

Net Applications' September 2009 browser usage share statistics.
Net Applications' September 2009 browser usage share statistics. Net Applications
Net Applications' October 2009 browser usage share statistics.
Net Applications' October 2009 browser usage share statistics. Net Applications

Chrome's early gains are notable--the software has only been publicly available for 14 months. But Google's challenge in spreading the software will gradually change as the supply of experimental early adopters peters out and the company must look to the slower-moving mainstream crowd for growth.

Although a few tenths of a percent may appear small, they represent large numbers considering how many people actually use browsers. The absolute number of users is relevant to Web developers dealing with customer support questions from people who might experience browser incompatibilities.

Speaking of incompatibility, one interesting statistic deeper in the Net Applications figures is the growing use of IE 8's compatibility mode, a feature introduced to help the new browser handle Web sites that are coded for IE 7 or before. In a departure from earlier versions, IE 8 by default tries to conform to Web standards to display Web pages--which can cause problems with Web sites built not for those standards but for those earlier versions of IE. The compatibility mode seeks to smooth over this discontinuity.

In September, 2.3 percent of usage was with IE 8 using compatibility mode. In October, that increased slightly to 2.4 percent.

IE 6 still is the dominant version of Microsoft's browser, with 23.3 percent usage. That version is built into Windows XP and was first released in 2001. IE 7, at 18.2 percent, is on the brink of being surpassed by IE 8 at 18.1 percent.

Chrome offers an interesting contrast to IE's slow change rate. By default, Google upgrades the browser automatically without giving people any say-so. That might cause some heartburn among some, but it rapidly distributes security patches and new features. To Google, Chrome version numbers are for bookkeeping in the background, not for splashing prominently in front of users.

In September, Chrome 2.0 was the leading version, with 1.7 percent usage compared to 1.2 percent for Chrome 3.0.

In October, though, Chrome 3.0 had taken over with 3.1 percent share. Chrome 4.0 is rising, but it's still only available as a rough developer preview version while Google programmers work on Mac and Linux versions mature enough to be called beta software.