Since the release of Internet Explorer 9 earlier this year, the browser landscape has continued to change rapidly. In early 2012 Internet Explorer 10 will be released — the second IE release in about a year — with a number of important advancements. Firefox will have fully adopted the same release cycle as Google Chrome with version 6 and 7 due by years end. Firefox 6, due August 16th, will be the third version of Firefox released this year! Browsers are getting released early and often and upgrades are now automatic in Chrome and Firefox, often without the user's knowledge.
Often overlooked in the hype over the browser wars is the role that the OS plays in all of this. Windows 7 is now the most popular OS in the United States; it passed Windows XP in April. It's set to become the number one operating system in the world sometime in October or November this year. Many commentators chastised Microsoft for not releasing a version of IE9 for Windows XP but that doesn't seem to have been a bad strategy for Microsoft. IE9 is already making impressive market share gains although Windows XP is likely to be a major operating system on the worldwide market for some time, it will likely still have around 30% market share by the time of the 2012 presidential elections. That means that the long tail of decline for the older IE versions is likely to be kept alive by the stubborn decline of Windows XP.
Current Browser Market Share
Although a lot of emphasis is often placed on particular browser features or the new technologies of HTML5, it's just as important to look at the real landscape of browsers in the marketplace — this indicates when developers can actually start using a feature. Websites like When can I use… do an excellent job of tracking features and mapping them to current browsers.
Below you can see the market share of browsers in the US. The various flavors of IE have been separated out because they are so radically different from each other while versions of FireFox, Chrome and Safari have been merged because they are all reasonably up to date, and reasonably similar.
In the US, IE9 usage has risen quite dramatically since the year began, to 10% while IE8 has plunged. IE7 continues to drop rapidly and is now just over 5% in the US. The other big success story is Google Chrome, reaching 16% in the united states.
Worldwide it's a slightly different story. Mostly because of Europe, Firefox and Chrome have much more impressive overall numbers. IE9 is catching on more slowly, largely because of IE's lower overall usage in Europe. Safari's market is largely tied to OSX which is much less popular worldwide than in the US.
Operating System Market Share
In the US, Windows 7 surpassed Windows XP in April of this year and it will likely happen worldwide in November. Tracking Windows 7 adoption is important because IE6 and 7 are not available for Windows 7. Windows Vista never really caught on and the release of Windows 7 has decimated Vista's market share. Vista is set to drop to 8% by the end of the year and, if trends continue, it will be hanging out with desktop Linux by the end of 2012 — around 1% or 2%.
The chart above shows the global market share of the 4 top operating systems with trend lines drawn out for the rest of 2011. The lines for Windows 7 and Windows XP cross some time in November.
Trend lines have been added to the chart above for the rest of 2011. As the chart above shows, the release of IE9 has had a significant impact on IE8's market share — IE9 is climbing almost as fast as IE8 is falling. IE7 has also begun a dramatic fall since IE9's release in March. IE7 is on track to fall below 3% by the end of the year — this is pretty remarkable considering it started the year with nearly 12%. Chrome continues to make significant gains with the majority of its share coming from IE and is set to end 2011 with around 20% market share. Firefox has been in a slow decline for quite a while, losing around 3% a year since peaking in 2009 (around the time of Chrome 2's release).
While Safari's numbers are basically stagnant and follow in line with OSX's market penetration, Safari for iPad and iPhone continue to grow and have begun showing up in the top 10 browsers on Global Stats, beating out IE6 in the US. Those numbers will continue to grow and become competitive with IE6 and IE7. This means that in 2012 — and likely well before that — it will make sense to weigh between iOS/Android support versus IE6/IE7 support. Yahoo! has already updated their GBS list to include mobile browsers. It may seem like a false choice to drop IE6/IE7 in favor of mobile support however, considering they likely take an equal amount of extra developer time, it makes sense to support the edge case with a growing market share instead of a shrinking one. Judging by new CSS frameworks like Mobile Boilerplate, 320 and Up and Skeleton, mobile is actually becoming a real consideration for front-end developers.
At the same time, the new focus on mobile caused a co-worker of mine to gripe, "Android is the new IE6." After reviewing the jQuery Mobile GBS it's clear that mobile is still a wild frontier. This is likely why Yahoo! is still only supporting iOS and Android. Of course the stats tend to bear that out as well; iOS and Android dominate the mobile handset market and blackberry is in a sharp decline.
Abandoning IE6 Completely
Most developers have been on this page for months or even years, but it is now obvious that IE6 will be hanging out with browsers like Firefox 3.0 and 3.5 Or Safari 4 by the end of the year. The only reason anyone had for supporting it this long was corporate clients that were reluctant to upgrade. From my experience, many corporate clients have begun the process of upgrading form Windows XP/IE6 to Windows Vista/IE7 — because if they upgraded to Windows 7 and IE9 the world would end.
Dropping IE7 Support
People (me) were calling for abandoning IE6 once it hit 5% in the US. IE7 is now at that level and it has started to show the same consistent pattern of decline that IE6 was showing. IE7 has actually been declining much faster than IE6 ever did, similar to the decline of Windows XP versus Windows Vista. Halfway through 2011 IE7 has already dropped from nearly 12% to just over 5%. IE7 will probably adopt the slow death of dropping it's market share by more than half every year going forward, similar to what IE6 is doing now. This all means that by the time 2012 rolls around, IE7 will be a breath away from dropping off the required browsers list for most developers.
It's kind of a shame to see IE7 so close to obsolescence so soon after most developers were finally able to drop IE6. The developers that I work with regularly get excited when I tell them, "No IE6 testing, only IE7." Only having to test for IE7 is a sweet sigh of relief, but it's still a painful experience. Sadly IE7 can't be dropped right away because of corporate clients but by the end of the year, things will be a different story. With the rapid release of IE10 coming in the fall and the likely hot-on-its-heels announcement of IE11, corporate IT will have to rethink it's strategy of dictating specific IE versions within their network.