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The changing face of internet browsers

Posted on April 30, 2012, by

On March 18th, 2012, a major change occurred in the web browser space…for a day.

Google Chrome, previously trailing Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, overtook IE as the most commonly used browser, but fell behind IE again on the 19th. While this lead was admittedly short-lived the change demonstrates the way in which browser usage has been shifting worldwide in the last few years. What’s more interesting, however, are the circumstances under which the change occurred.

Firstly, Chrome’s lead took place at the weekend, where internet users are more likely to be in their home environment rather than a workplace. An obvious explanation is that those who use IE in the week are either constrained by workplace regulations regarding software installation, or are simply not interested in changing settings on PCs that they don’t consider their own.

Also of interest, however, is that the shift occurred largely due to the surge in usage across India, Russia and Brazil.

While Brazil is one of the fastest-growing economies in the world at present (recently overtaking the UK as the world’s sixth-biggest economy), of key importance is that the three countries listed are part of what is known as the “BRIC” nations (which includes these three as well as China), a group of countries whose economic growth has been less affected by the recession than many of the global economic superpowers of recent years.

So what, then, has contributed to this shift in market share? Google’s force as a global brand cannot be dismissed as a factor, in the same way that Microsoft and Apple both benefit from being a household name synonymous with technology. This, it has to be said, is not the case with Mozilla whose usage statistics, and thus market share, tend to stay pretty consistent, suggesting a loyal user base (presumably one that is fairly tech-savvy).

Integration plays a big part too. One of the draws of Google’s browser is its seamless integration with all Google services including Google Mail, YouTube and their Google+ social networking service. While Microsoft’s browser boasts similar integration with Windows Live services (which now includes a much more robust feature set for Microsoft Office, including web-based ‘lite’ applications), Google’s dominance in the search engine market alone is sufficient to keep the name fresh in users’ heads.

Much in the same way as Apple’s iPod brand has now become synonymous with mp3 players, to the point where a member of the public might use the term “iPod” to refer to a non-Apple mp3 player, “google” is now the term which springs to mind to describe using search engine functionality. This verbification has arguably contributed toward Google’s significant market share in this space. As Google offer consumers their browser over all of the websites under their umbrella, and as that list of websites and services increases, users will certainly see a larger Chrome presence across the web.

Relatedly, the shift can also be part attributed to changes in the PC retail sector. Before Microsoft’s “Browser Choice” program was instituted as part of a settlement with the European Commission, manufacturers would ship Windows PCs with Internet Explorer as the default browsing platform. It was then left to users to seek out an alternative browser of choice if they were unhappy with this setup.

In addition to the “Browser Choice” functionality that is now standard in Windows, a number of today’s PC manufacturers ship with Chrome as the default browser (Sony Vaio being the first to sign such a deal with Google), and indeed a customer who purchases a laptop from Dixons Retail stores (Currys, PC World etc) will now be offered Chrome as the ‘recommended’ browser should they opt for an in-store personalisation and setup.

PC specification also comes into play when choosing a browser. While Microsoft has enjoyed phenomenal sales success with its current operating system, Windows 7, its user base only began to overtake the Windows XP user base in October of last year, as many users are still using XP both in a home and workplace setup. As Microsoft improves their browser – with Internet Explorer 9 and its users currently benefiting from a considerably less cluttered UI in a similar vein to Google’s popular browser – many XP users find themselves simply unable to upgrade to the latest version of Internet Explorer. In fact a number of comments on the Windows Team Blog at the time of IE9’s release were complaints regarding just that.

Naturally if users in this position are unhappy with Internet Explorer, in whichever form their most up-to-date version takes, they are left with no other choice than to choose another company’s product. This could play a factor in countries where less affluent PC users may find themselves unable to purchase a new machine and instead make do with hand-me-downs.

What does all of this mean for the future of the web browser space? Undoubtedly, Google’s momentum is considerable in the browser space, and as Chrome OS gets closer to becoming a reality, that momentum has the potential to increase exponentially as users begin to favour free operating systems over MS’ offerings (although it’s safe to assume that MS could have something up their sleeves in this area). Microsoft will, no doubt, continue to benefit from the familiarity element wherein users will stick with what they know, but the approaching release of Windows 8 may prove to be another radical shift which leaves some unable to upgrade their web browser to IE10.

Another consideration that cannot be ignored is the shift in how users browse the Internet. With users beginning to access the web in different ways, using a variety of devices, and with tablets and mobile technology improving constantly, it is conceivable that a larger share of the browser space will be taken by iOS, Android and other mobile devices. Today global browser usage statistics already demonstrate that well over 1% of web browsing is done from iPads alone.proceed this link here now

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