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Tracking Gecko tales

September 23, 2002

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If you’ve been tracking the browser usage on your sites with Analog, as I have, then you’ll want to download the latest version (5.24 at the time of writing). Just like the browser-sniffing scripts I mentioned last column, log analysis packages sometimes need to be updated to allow for new browsers. Ideally, the matching algorithms would capture new browsers without modification. Certainly, log analysis packages seem to cope better with new or unusual browsers than the average JavaScript sniffer. Analog does pretty well with non-spoofed user agents, and by default captures Opera, Konqueror and Galeon correctly even if they are semi-spoofed. With a few tweaks to my config file, I can also ensure it captures iCab and OmniWeb properly. Still, you will sometimes need to update your log analysis package to allow for a changing browser population.

The reason the most recent version of Analog is important is that it does a much better job of telling the difference between Netscape 6, Netscape 7 and Mozilla. I had added a quick hack to my configuration file to capture the beta of Netscape 7, but even that seems to have been underestimating the true usage of this pre-release version. Once I upgraded Analog, I found that Netscape 7 is already outstripping Netscape 6 in our traffic. While they both still account for less than the (declining) share of Netscape 4, it’s not trivial. Within a few weeks of final release, Netscape 7’s share of human pageviews was outstripping Opera and iCab, not to mention the more minor browsers like Konqueror, and old, swiftly disappearing browsers like IE4. (I say “human pageviews” because I exclude known robots, spiders and crawlers from these figures. See my config file for more information.)

Every site will have a different audience, with Mac-oriented sites like MacEdition being observably different from sites with a more Windows-oriented readership. MacEdition may not even be representative of Mac-oriented sites; we aim our content at the professional Mac user. Obviously our readers will have a slightly different mix of hardware to the regular readers of LowEndMac (and radically different to those of, say, System 6 Heaven). And when Mac OS Rumors linked to a recent Naked Mole Rat Report, I noticed an uptick in the usage of Netscape 6 relative to our usual traffic.

Still, if MacEdition’s logs are anything to go by, Mac and Windows users have both adopted Mozilla-family browsers with some enthusiasm; the one-browser Web is not coming to Mac-oriented Web sites any time soon.

I suspect that part of the switch from Netscape 4 to Mozilla-based browsers is happening as these users upgrade to OS X (Netscape 4 usage has fallen to less than half the share it had at the beginning of the year). There’s no native version of Netscape 4 for OS X, and I can’t imagine anyone using it in the Classic environment for general surfing, only for page checking. As I mentioned in an earlier column, it’s difficult to tell exactly how many OS X users are being recorded in your logs, because IE 5.14 had the same user agent string for OS 9 as OS X. Because IE 5.2x has jumped up very rapidly in our browser share numbers, I now assume that, since the release of IE5.2, the remaining few percentage points of 5.14 users are on Mac OS 9. There are other reasonable assumptions I could make – the bottom line is that I might be underestimating OS X usage by a couple of percent (around one in twenty known OS X users) and overestimating the share of non-IE browsers amongst OS X users by a corresponding small amount. Despite this uncertainty, MacEdition logs suggest a rough split of OS X browser usage as: a bit over half IE, a bit over one quarter Mozilla and friends (Chimera and Netscape), and a bit less than a quarter OmniWeb. There’s also a tiny sliver that I can see using iCab (around one percent of OS X users). Opera, Links (not to be confused with Lynx) and a bunch of other browsers for OS X don’t identify themselves separately as being for OS X, so I don’t count them in these figures, but judging by the tiny shares these browsers have in the total traffic of MacEdition, this can’t possibly make much difference.

Unfortunately, Chimera doesn’t seem to distinguish itself from Mozilla on OS X. There is nothing in the user agent string that tells Analog or me that it’s Chimera Navigator. I suppose I could try to work it out on the basis of build dates and fine-level version numbers, but that seems like a phenomenal waste of time to me as I really do have a life beyond MacEdition.

Standards renaissance

So what I have learned from my tracking of MacEdition’s stats is that this year looks to be the year of Mozilla. From around six percent at the end of last year, which is when I last discussed these issues in detail, it’s now more than double that. The share of Mozilla-based browsers used by our OS X-using readers has risen rapidly, at the expense of both IE and especially OmniWeb, and it seems to be rising still. At the beginning of the year, around 60 percent of our human pageviews were accounted for by browsers that I consider to have very good standards support (OmniWeb, IE5/Windows and iCab aren’t in that category) – now it’s more like 75 percent.

Web sites that are completely focused on OS X can be pretty sure that the vast majority of their readers are using browsers with basic support for CSS and the DOM. Sure, they’ve got to use OmniWeb as the lowest common denominator, but there’s no excuse for FONT tags or most convoluted table layouts. A simple table layout – no more than two nested tables – and everything else in CSS will work fine, even in OmniWeb and iCab. The population of well-behaved browsers continues to grow. Now we just have to ensure that the not-so-well-behaved browsers get better.

— CodeBitch ( is the grumpy cow who does the HTML production for MacEdition. Read other articles by CodeBitch

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