The evolving browser ecosystem
January 27, 2003
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Internet Explorer, Safari, Mozilla/Netscape/Chimera, Opera, OmniWeb, iCab. That’s eight browsers for Mac OS X users to choose from and six rendering engines for Mac-oriented Web authors to worry about. More, if text browsers like Lynx and W3M are included, not to mention a few other Mozilla variants like Phoenix and the new AOL browser. But how much should we worry, really?
So, the message is clear – if you have a substantial fraction of Mac OS X users in your audience, then Web standards are the way to accommodate them.
At the time Safari’s first beta was released, Chimera Navigator was on its way to becoming the dominant OS X browser amongst MacEdition’s readers. The introduction of Safari provides a test of which features OS X users really want: the features and customisability of Mozilla; speed and tabbed browsing of Chimera; mainstream acceptance of IE; or speed of Safari. Was IE’s market share just because it was the default browser? If so, Safari will rapidly eat most of IE’s market share. Similarly, did Chimera eat most of OmniWeb’s market share because of tabbed browsing or because of its standards compliance? We’ll soon know which matters more by watching the adoption of Safari relative to Chimera. And if well-rendered text mattered more to the remaining rump of OmniWeb users than some of its interface features, we’ll see Safari eating chunks of OmniWeb’s late-2002 market share.
You can trawl discussion boards for people’s opinions all you like, and it seems everyone posting to discussion boards thinks that their choice reflects universal preferences. But there’s nothing like the preferences revealed in server logs to really show what’s happening. I’m loath to make too much of a few weeks’ figures, especially when we know that articles about particular browsers attracts extra readers who use those browsers. Still, here are the browser shares for the identifiable OS X users reading MacEdition since then. (Opera’s excluded since it’s not possible to separate OS 9 and OS X users, but given the total Opera/Mac usage, it wouldn’t be more than about 1-2%.) Safari’s user agent string is easy to check for, and you’re welcome to use my Analog config file if you’d like to make the same assessment for your site. I’d also recommend upgrading to the latest Analog if you can, since it identifies Chimera and Phoenix without having to add up all the individual browser tags like I used to do, which gets pretty laborious with all those nightly builds.
|22 Dec 2002||39.97%||7.57%||10.51%||40.86%||1.03%||0.07%|
|29 Dec 2002||33.71%||7.69%||10.64%||46.78%||1.10%||0.07%|
|05 Jan 2003||18.15%||5.21%||7.25%||26.54%||0.63%||42.22%|
|12 Jan 2003||10.17%||3.16%||5.66%||19.50%||0.27%||61.24%|
|19 Jan 2003||11.19%||2.61%||4.84%||18.32%||0.31%||62.73%|
In a nutshell, the appearance of a hyped new browser from Apple, a new default browser, has clearly captured Mac users’ imagination, even if only for a transitory period. Safari has eaten market share of every other browser in the OS X ecosystem. It’s eaten around half the share of the Gecko-based browsers, and two-thirds of the shares of that of the others (IE, OmniWeb, iCab). Tabbed browsing clearly matters to some people – or maybe it’s that last few points of standards compliance – but speed matters to a lot of people, too. And we’ve also learned that more than 60 percent of Mac OS X users who read MacEdition are already using Jaguar, or they couldn’t use Safari. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to learn anything more about OS X version from browser information. It’s worth pointing out that most current versions of OS X browsers require at least 10.1, and the vast majority of users of these browsers have the latest version, whether that’s IE 5.2.2 or OmniWeb 4.1.1, but that’s the most one can learn from this data source.
Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if, after a few weeks of tryout, some people go back to the browser they used to use in December, so that Safari doesn’t become quite as dominant as IE is on Windows. I’m still expecting a new release of IE for Mac in the near future, which might win back some of its previous share. And if the Omni Group really does adopt the same rendering engine as Safari, then its user-interface niceties can go head-to-head with Safari’s without being hindered by the poor design decisions embedded in its existing rendering engine. Moreover, Chimera is an excellent browser, especially if you like tabbed interfaces, so I don’t think Mike Pinkerton should be despairing at the possibility of being number two or three in a vibrant market of eight or more browsers. Indeed, Mike already seems more chipper, which should relieve Chimera fans.
But right now, if you have Mac OS X-using readers, you need to care about Safari. You need to know that its CSS standards compliance is actually pretty good, despite the odd bug. You can see this in our own MacEdition Guide to CSS2 support in Mac-only browsers, or you can look at Peter-Paul Koch’s condensed set of features new in CSS2 – on his metric, Safari and Konqueror do better than IE or Opera before Version 7. That’s pretty cool, especially for a beta.
What’s even more cool is that Mac OS X users have more choice of browsers than users of any other platform (time to point and laugh at the Windows devotees, folks), and most of them have good standards support. There’s bound to be one you’ll like to use, and there are quite a few that I like you using.