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Browser Shares Reveal True Benefits of Open Source

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December 7, 2009, 7:21 am

There was a good story on Ars Technica last week about the current state of browser share on the Internet. Browser news is always interesting because it gives us one window into how far open source has come on the desktop.

The thrust of the Ars story was how IE8 has passed the market share of IE7 (though not, amazingly, IE6, the current Bane of the 'Net), which does not interest Linux users, except to highlight the capacity for Windows users to stick with what they know even if it puts all of their data at risk. In looking at the data, however, I was interested to note how much market share the open source browsers had against the proprietary.

November 2009 Worldwide Browser Shares, Courtesy of Net Applications
November 2009 Worldwide Browser Shares, Courtesy of Net Applications.

In the figure above, you can see the pie chart from the data source at Net Applications. Right away, you can see that Firefox is at a healthy 24.72 percent of the worldwide browser market, according to Net Applications. That's a respectable number, but the one that really interests me is IE's share: only 63.62 percent. This is a figure that clearly demonstrates how far the Microsoft IE juggernaut has fallen against open source browsers.

That's because, with the exception of Opera, pretty much all of the other browsers on the list competing against IE are open source browsers.

Now, I know some will argue against Safari being called open source, but I am going to count it in the open column for the primary reason that even though some of the Safari GUI elements and tools are proprietary, the WebKit renderer code is wide open.

If you add up the percentages of all of the open source browsers in the report, you come up with 33.54 percent of the total browsers tracked. That's compared to proprietary browsers' 66.43 percent share (the missing .03 percent are browsers that fell below the significant tracking value for the survey).

For those Safari-as-proprietary purists out there, slipping Apple's browser into the proprietary column puts the shares at 29.18 percent for open source and 70.79 percent for proprietary browsers.

Either way you add it up, this puts open source browsers at or very nearly a third of the market share, and with the newcomer Chrome on the scene, we can only expect this open source share to increase in the coming months.

There are three positives that come out of data like this. First, there's the obvious argument against open-source naysayers: there are very few arguments one would have against the success of open source as a general concept when looking at the popularity of open source browsers.

Second, there's the nice fact that nearly all of these browsers provide a nice set of Linux applications for people to try. Firefox, Opera, and Konqueror are great Linux browsers already, and the Chromium development version of Chrome works pretty well on Linux for now.

But I believe the most important takeaway from this data is that we have finally reached a tipping point for open standards across the entire web. No Web developer worth their salt can ignore that fact that more than a third of browsers are rendering sites using open standards (and here we have to count Opera in this group, because proprietary or not, it still follows open standards).

There are still IE-only pages out there of course, because there are still some bad web devs in the world, but the pressures of user demand will soon force all web coders to re-work their code to more open standards. Because sooner or later, they or their bosses will be wondering why they're giving up a full third of their potential visitor traffic just to toe the Microsoft line.

Even as critics mock the open source browsers' clear lack of majority (for now), these browsers have already performed their best service for Linux and general Internet users: forcing the Web to be built on open standards, and leveling the playing field for Linux to compete on mobile and cloud platforms, all the while giving all users a safer and more stable set of tools with which to surf the web.

 

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