Microsoft's upcoming Spartan browser is set to be the first big new release in the desktop browser market for quite some time, upsetting a tentative equilibrium that has existed for roughly the past two years.
Broadly speaking, the trend has been that Google Chrome is the new 800-pound gorilla of the market, taking market share from both Internet Explorer and Firefox, with niche players like Opera and Safari maintaining relatively minimal user bases.
But beyond that, it's difficult to be more specific major indices like W3Schools, StatCounter and NetMarketShare all paint very different pictures of the overall landscape. NetMarketShare's numbers show Chrome surpassing Firefox's market share in May 2014, and pushing farther ahead since but both remain well behind IE nearly 60% share, which only began to decline in in December.
W3Schools, by contrast, suggest that Chrome is on top, and has been for a long time surpassing IE in 2011 and accounting for 62.5% traffic in the most recent monthly figures, compared to 22.9% for Firefox and just 8% for IE. StatCounter's picture is different again, showing that Internet Explorer is in second place at 19.5%, behind a dominant Chrome at 52.3% and only just ahead of Firefox, with 18.4%.
It's important to remember that each index is measuring different data W3Schools is counting only visitors to its own site. All three sources, however, agree that Chrome's market share is headed north, while the other two of the big three are either treading water or declining. Can Spartan change that? Read on.
For many, it's not exactly a confidence booster that Microsoft's forthcoming new browser will be a "Windows App," rather than a traditional desktop application. It sports the characteristic borderless frames and blockily minimalist aesthetic, and the overall impression is of a stripped-down, simplified version of IE, according to an initial appreciation by Network World's Howard Wen.
But, in a lot of ways, that's probably a good thing Chrome's got a very similar look and feel, and it's doing pretty well for itself.
Is it going to single-handedly restore Microsoft's supremacy in PC browsers? Certainly not right away. But, from here, it does look highly competitive.
So what about the browser Spartan's trying to knock off of its perch? Chrome's still got major advantages over the rest of the field, including a perceived performance edge, simple and elegant design, and tight integration with Google's wildly popular web services like Gmail.
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