2016 sees Internet Explorer usage collapse, Chrome surge

2016 sees Internet Explorer usage collapse, Chrome surge

A couple of newcomers enter the scene, and Opera changes ownership.

At the start of 2016, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer was still the most commonly used browser on the Web; it finished 2015 being used by about 46 percent of Web users, with 32 percent preferring Chrome, and 12 percent using Firefox. But Explorer’s days have been numbered ever since Microsoft essentially ended its development. While the venerable browser is still supported and still gets security updates, its features and standard support have been frozen since 2015. Instead, Microsoft shifted active development to Edge, its new browser. While Edge is faster, more secure, and boasts much better support for Web standards, it’s only available for Windows 10, which greatly limits its audience.

The landscape looked very different at the end of 2016. Chrome surged to command 56 percent of the market, while Internet Explorer plummeted to just under 21 percent. Edge isn’t being completely ignored by Web users—it started the year on 2.8 percent and finished on 5.3 percent—but it seems to be underperforming its predecessor. At the start of 2016, Windows 10 was used by 10 percent of Web users. By the end of 2016, this figure reached 24 percent—a solid performance for a new Microsoft operating system that was no doubt buoyed by the free upgrade offer for Windows 7 and Windows 8 users. Among gamers, Edge is performing better: according to the Steam hardware survey, Windows 10 just passed 50 percent of Steam users at the end of the year. That growth came at the expense of older Windows versions; Windows 7 dropped from 56 to 48 percent, Windows XP from 11 to 9 percent, and Windows 8.1 from 10 to 7 percent.

These numbers mean that only 22 percent of Windows 10 users are opting for Edge. Assuming that Internet Explorer users are mostly on older versions of Windows (technically, Windows 10 users could use Internet Explorer too, though it’s strongly discouraged and likely to be rare), 32 percent of pre-Windows 10 users are sticking with Internet Explorer. This suggests that either Windows 10 users don’t regard Edge as a suitable replacement for Internet Explorer or that early adopters are less interested in the operating system’s default browser.

Edge, for its part, took a big step forward in 2016: the Windows 10 Anniversary Update added extension support that makes Microsoft’s browser broadly compatible with the HTML-and-JavaScript extensions supported by Chrome and Firefox. Nonetheless, Microsoft’s browser still feels barebones, and its competitors are still better at things like managing tabs and passwords. And, in my own experience, Edge suffers from some odd stability issues.

Firefox ended the year in much the same place as it started it, at a hair over 12 percent. That’s a stronger performance than it appears, as by August the browser’s market share had fallen below 8 percent. Over the last four months of the year, all those losses were made up. After many years of development, Firefox is finally starting to get the kinds of security and stability features that other browsers have enjoyed for as much as a decade. Specifically, the browser now runs its rendering engine in a separate process, meaning that a crashing Web page doesn’t take down the entire browser. Firefox still has a way to go before it truly rivals Chrome, Edge, and Safari—it can’t yet create multiple rendering engine processes, so if one tab crashes they all need to be reloaded—but that goal is now in sight.

The situation for another venerable browser looks less happy. Opera’s market share throughout the year hovered at just over 1 percent. Opera Software, the company that developed the browser, functionally split in November. One half of the company, Opera ASA, remains a publicly traded Norwegian firm; it runs ad operations, app and game development, the Opera TV storefront and app platform, the Skyfire video optimization and monetization service, and the SurfEasy VPN service. The other half, Opera AS, develops the namesake browser, and this company was sold to a Chinese consortium for about $600 million. This sale saw the Opera brand and logo move to Chinese ownership.

Immediately upon completing the sale, the new owners laid off 85 staff, leaving the company with fewer than 400 employees. Still more resigned after the change in ownership. The browser is facing significant revenue pressure, with its traditional sources of income—bundling agreements with telecoms operators and licensing its browser tech for various embedded platforms—drying up, leaving it funded solely by its users. With such low market share, that’s a tricky position to be in.

In the view of many long-time Opera fans, Opera hasn’t been the browser that they know and love since 2013, when the browser dropped its own rendering engine and started using Blink, the WebKit-derived engine that Google uses in Chrome. With this switch came a reduction in the configurability and customization that endeared the browser to a certain kind of Internet user. A new browser created by some former Opera staff is striving to fill that gap. Vivaldi saw its version 1 release in 2016, and while it, too, is built using Blink, its entire interface is built using JavaScript, HTML, Node.js, and related technology. This makes the interface much easier to modify.

Now at version 1.7, Vivaldi is aiming at the “power user” who wants something that can be tailored to their specific needs. Still, the browser has yet to make a dent in the market share numbers.

A second new player from another long-time participant in the browser space also went public in 2016. The Brave browser was launched by Brendan Eich, co-founder of Mozilla and inventor of JavaScript. Brave’s novelty isn’t power-user customization, but rather integrated ad blocking combined with a micropayment system. Brave replaces ads on ad-funded sites with its own advertising. Revenue from that advertising is split between the sites having their ads blocked, Brave, the ad networks, and Brave’s users. The users can use these kickbacks to donate to publishers of their choosing. They can also make contributions directly through the browser.

Again, Brave hasn’t attracted much usage. A year ago, Eich said it needs to hit around 7 million users to prove its model works. As with Vivaldi, Brave has yet to make an appearance in the market share numbers.

Looking into 2017, Edge is going to continue to pick up features and become a more rounded option, while Firefox is going to round out its multiprocess implementation to give it much needed parity. Still, it’s hard to see how either browser is going to make inroads into Chrome’s share. Chrome currently offers the best mix of features, security, and reliability. Combined with Google’s continued promotional power—visit Google.com in other browsers and you’ll still be asked if you want to try Chrome—it’s a challenge for the others to win new users. And the continued migration to Windows 10 is only going to speed Internet Explorer’s decline.

Min Browser Muffles the Web’s Noise

Min Browser Muffles the Web’s Noise

Min is a Web browser with a minimal design that provides speedy operation with simple features.

When it comes to software design, “minimal” does not mean low functionality or undeveloped potential. If you like minimal distraction tools for your text editor and note-taking applications, that same comfort appeal is evident in the Min browser.

I mostly use Google Chrome, Chromium and Firefox on my desktops and laptop computers. I am well invested in their add-on functionality, so I can access all the specialty services that get me through my long sessions in researching and working online.

However, I sometimes prefer a fast, uncluttered alternative on-ramp to the Internet. With multiple projects in progress, I can amass a wide collection of open tabs or even separate windows of the powerhouse browsers in no time.

I have tried other browser options with little success. The alternatives usually have their own sets of distracting add-ons and features that tend to pull me into more off-task behavior.

The Min browser does not do that. It is a GitHub-sourced Web browser that is easy to use, and it keeps the typical interruptions from distracting me.

The Min browser is minimal-design Web browser that provides speedy operation with simple features. Just don’t expect to take its tour any time soon.

What It Does

The Min browser comes in versions for Debian Linux variants, Windows and Mac machines. It can not compete with the functionality available in the mainstream cross-platform Web browsers.

It does not have to compete, though. Its claim to fame very well might be supplementing rather than replacing them.

One big reason for this is its built-in ad blocking capability. Out of the box, the Min browser needs no configuration or hunting for compatible third-party apps to do end-runs around ads.

In Edit/Preferences, you have three options to click/unclick for content blocking. It’s easy to modify blocking tactics to suit your preferences. The Block Trackers and Ads option uses EasyList and EasyPrivacy. If nothing else, keep this option checked.

You also can block scripts and block images. Doing both maximizes the website loading speeds and really ramps up your protection against rogue code attacks.

Have Search Your Way

If you spend considerable time doing online research, you will adore the way Min handles searching. It is a top-notch feature.

Search functionality is accessible right in the browser’s URL bar. Min utilizes search engine DuckDuckGo and Wikipedia entries. You can enter search queries directly into the Web address field.

This approach saves time since you do not have to go to the search engine window first. A nice bonus is the ability to search your bookmarks.

In the Edit/Preferences menu, choose your choice for default search engine. The list includes DuckDuckGo, Google, Bing, Yahoo, Baidu, Wikipedia and Yandex.

Try making DuckDuckGo your default search engine. Min is built around that option but does not impose it on you.

Min browser’s search functionality is part of the URL bar. Min utilizes search engine DuckDuckGo and Wikipedia entries. You can enter search queries directly into the Web address window.

The search bar displays answers to your questions very rapidly. It uses information from DuckDuckGo including Wikipedia entries, a calculator and more.

It offers quick snippets, answers and Web suggestions. It sort of substitutes for not being in a Google-based environment.

Navigating Aids

Min lets you jump to any site quickly with fuzzy search. It throws suggestions at you almost immediately.

I like the way the tabs open next to the current tab. You do not have to set this preference. It is there by default with no other choice, but it makes sense.

One of Min’s really cool operations is the ability to organize tabs into Tasks that you can search anytime. (click image to enlarge)

Tabs you have not clicked on for a while dim. This lets you concentrate on your current task without distractions.

Min does not need an add-on tool to keep numerous tabs under control. The browser displays a list of tags and lets you split them into groups.

Stay Focused

Min has an optional Focus Mode hidden in the View menu. When enabled, it hides all tabs except the one you have opened. You must return to the menu to turn off Focus Mode before you can open new tabs.

The Tasks feature also helps you stay focused. You can create tasks from the File menu or with Control+Shift+N. If you want to open a new tab, you can select that option in the Files menu or use Control+T.

Call the new task whatever fits your style. I like being able to organize and display as a group all the tabs associated with a work project or a specific portion of my research. I can recall the entire list at any time to easily and quickly find where I was in my browsing adventure.

Another neat feature is found under the paragraph alignment icon in the tab area. Click it to enable Reading Mode. This mode saves the article for future reference and strips away everything on the page so you can focus on the task of reading.

Not Perfect

The Min browser is not a perfect alternative to high-powered, feature-bloated alternatives. It does have a few glaring weaknesses that developers have taken too long to rectify.

For instance, It lacks a solid developer website stocked with support forums and detailed user guides. That may be partly due to its home being GitHub rather than an independent developer website. Still, it’s a weakness that is glaring to new users.

Without website support, users are forced to struggle with lists of readme files and hard-to-follow directories on GitHub. You can access them from the Min browser Help menu — but that’s not much help.

A case in point is the Welcome to Min splash screen that loads from the menu when you launch the browser. It displays two buttons. One says “Start Browsing.” The other says “Take a Tour.” Neither one works.

However, you can start browsing by clicking on the menu bar at the top of the Min window. There is no workaround for the missing tour, though.

Bottom Line

Min is not a full-featured Web browser with bells and whistles galore. It is not designed for add-ons and many other features you typically use in well-established Web browsers. However, Min serves an important niche purpose by offering speed and distraction-free browsing.

The more I use the Min browser, the more productive it is for me — but be wary when you first start to use it.

Min is not complicated or confusing — it is just quirky. You have to play around with it to discover how it works.