July 6, 2009

a browser prediction: the modern era of the web

There's been a lot of talk the last few days about Internet Explorer's drop in usage share. I'm still waiting on the Net Applications June numbers which I think more highly of than the StatCounter numbers, but one thing is clear, IE 6's downward trend isn't changing.

When Microsoft shipped IE 7 in October of 2006, it moved a lot of IE 6 users.

As you can see from the chart, the Windows Update system did a pretty good job of moving users in the first few months. Then things slowed for a bit. Seeing the slowdown in migration, Microsoft decided in October of 2007 to lift the WGA requirement and you can see the line get much steeper againĀ 

But by October of 2008, after a year of WGA updates and then a year of non-WGA updates, Internet Explorer 7 was no longer pulling in large numbers of IE 6 users. At this point, I think it's a safe bet that anyone who was going to update from IE 6 to IE 7 had done so.

And not only had the remaining IE 6 users stopped moving up to IE 7, they didn't move to IE 8 either. By the time Internet Explorer 8 was released, IE 6's trajectory had stabilized and even a major release from Microsoft couldn't budge it.

So what is driving IE 6 share down at this pretty consistent rate of 9/10ths of a point per month? My theory is that this is a combination of two factors. The first, and larger factor, I think, is the PC upgrade cycle. Every month, some number of PCs get replaced with newer PCs and so IE 6 installs are disappearing from the Web at least at that rate. I think that the second factor is overall growth of PCs on the Web.

Last year, about 300 million new PCs were sold. About 200 million of those were replacement PCs, upgrades of older computers. About 100 million of those were "new to the Web" computers. That is, they were not upgrades that replaced an existing Web connected computer and those represent the actual real growth of users on the Web.

As PCs are upgraded, we see some direct movement from IE 6 users to IE 7 or IE 8. As the total Web population grows, the IE 6 installed base represents a smaller portion of the pie. Taken together, I believe these factors are the only influence on the drop of IE 6.

That's some bad news and some good news. The bad is that there's nothing any of the browser vendors can really do to speed the withdrawal of IE 6 from the Web. Releasing new versions, the big lever we have to move the Web forward, just doesn't reach those IE 6 users. The good is that the PC upgrade cycle and the growth of the market are both relatively predictable and steady. That means that we should be able to predict pretty accurately what IE 6 usage is going to look like in a month or in a year.

Here's my IE 6 prediction. It looks to me like we could see Internet Explorer 6 finally fall under the 10% mark by the end of this year. If you extend that line, IE 6 would be essentially gone from the Web by the end of next year.

But I can do a little better than that :-) Because IE 6's trajectory is so stable, it's not really going out on a limb to make predictions 6 months out. I like going out on limbs :-)

The chart here looks at more fine-grained tracking information and so the trajectories of the newer and more active versions of Internet Explorer are a bit easier to discern. Still, six months is a long time in the browser world and seeing the trends sooner, as is possible with the more fine-grained data, doesn't mean seeing the trend better.

Having said that, wouldn't it be neat if at the end of this year, IE 6 and IE 7 were both under 10% share? With IE 6 and 7 quickly disappearing, will we look back at 2010 and say "there began the Modern Era of the Web"?

Data through May 2009 from Net Applications Browser Market Share Report. All newer plots are my own predictions

Posted by asa at 2:00 PM