The rise of Firefox

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A lot is made of browser market-share figures. They’re a way to track the penetration of Mac OS X, via the appearance of Safari in server logs. And of course they also track the growth of the Firefox Web browser, as it gradually eats into the market-share lead of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

For a while now I’ve been meaning to look at our own statistics: the combined Web stats for Macworld, Playlist, and Mac OS X Hints. Now, Playlist (our iPod and iTunes site) is technically of cross-platform appeal, and as a result it adds a good percentage of Windows users into the mix. But in reality, even Macworld readers tend to be of a cross-platform bent: so far this year, 34 percent of Macworld’s Web traffic has come from Windows PCs. But more than half of the Playlist Web traffic comes from Windows PCs.

In any event, in March this was the state of affairs in the browser wars: IE had a 79 percent market share, Firefox had a 15 percent share, and Safari had a 5 percent share.

As you might expect, the numbers on our sites are different: So far this month Safari makes up 39 percent of our traffic, with Firefox at 33 percent and Internet Explorer at roughly 21 percent. What’s more interesting is if you look at the month-by-month numbers for Mac Publishing sites dating back to February 2005:

Browser Chart

For the entire past two-plus years, Safari has been kicking around the 45 percent mark on Macworld and 30 to 40 percent on all our sites. Meanwhile, Internet Explorer has been on a long, slow decline since the announcement of the Intel Macs in early 2006. (In 2005 there was a very small percentage of our readership that was browsing the site on the mothballed IE 5 for Mac, but that traffic has basically disappeared in the past year.) And then there’s Firefox, which just keeps on advancing.

I would imagine that Firefox is taking a certain percentage from both Safari and Internet Explorer. It’s not surprising that Macworld fans might try to avoid using Internet Explorer when they’re on a PC — I know that’s what I do. But it definitely seems that Firefox is also making a dent on Safari on the Mac side. Not a huge dent, but a noticeable one.

“But what about the other browsers?” I hear some of you asking. Well, the truth is that the other browsers don’t make much of a dent at all. Browsers that identify themselves simply as a Mozilla variant count for somewhere between four and five percent of our traffic. A lot of people tested out Opera in the first half of 2006 (numbers peaked at just over three percent of traffic), but these days just one percent of our readers use Opera. And the Omni Group’s well-reviewed OmniWeb browser, while slowly ticking up in percentage share, doesn’t account for even one-half of one percent of our traffic.

Firefox certainly has its fans, and Macworld’s own Online Managing Editor Curt Poff is a die-hard Firefox booster. As for me, as much as I keep trying other browsers, I inevitably end up coming back to Safari. As much as I want to like Firefox, it still hasn’t hooked me. At least not yet.

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