Friday, May 25, 2012

Usage Stats and the Battle for Browser Market Dominance

While the struggle for browser market share is in constant flux, Internet Explorer has consistently maintained a solid majority due to the enterprise market and the popularity of the Windows platform.  That is why recent news that Google Chrome unseated Internet Explorer as king came as a shock to many - in particular to Microsoft.

The claim was made by the data-tracking site StatCounter, crediting each browser with approximately 32-33% market share respectively (placing both browsers about 10% ahead of the nearest competitor: Firefox).  Microsoft was quick to refute the data citing flaws in the methodology used by StatCounter.

Chrome has a feature which pre-renders pages in invisible background tasks prior to loading any pages in order to facilitate what appears to be faster web browsing to the end user.  This feature effectively doubled the number of recorded page loads on StatCounter.  StatCounter has since corrected its methodology to disregard pre-rendering.

Microsoft pointed out other discrepancies such as the geographical weighing of the statistics (based on global internet usage by country), and measuring by volume of traffic as opposed to measuring by unique browser instances (meaning a single user doing lots of browsing would artificially impact the data).

Although overall market share statistics are a useful indicator of userbase demography, such data is always relative.  Browser statistics will vary highly depending the product/company.  This is especially important to keep in mind when designing test procedures.

An effective compatibility test matrix is designed around your specific target market for your company or product. For example, an Apple-centric product should focus testing on Safari and its mobile platform cousin.  When targeting the general market, marketshare statistics may prove to be invaluable.

For now the ubiquity of Windows maintains Internet Explorer's dominant share.  However, Chrome's rapid growth poses a clear challenge to that norm.  Both product and tester must be ready to adapt to any shift in the market.

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