Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Who Are These Guys?

Since I began the year with a post declaring my bailing on Firefox, I took some interest in yesterday’s post by Steve J. Vaughan-Nichols to his ZDNet Networking blog.  It was Vaughan-Nichols who first put the bug in my ear with his data points on browser popularity collected by Net Applications and StatCounter.  According to yesterday’s report, Microsoft’s Internet Explorer (IE) is “continuing to fall like a stone” in the ratings, while, while Chrome 16 is “the world’s most popular single browser version.”

Before I made my own decision to go over to Safari, I had considered trying Chrome.  The problem was that I had never actually seen the browser running on any platform, whether it involved a computer belonging to someone I knew or one on display in a showroom.  So I fired off an electronic message to one of my former Silicon Valley research colleagues.  She, in turn, cited another one of my former colleagues, known for being adventurous in trying out new software, saying that even he had not tried Chrome.

This left me to ponder the immortal words of Butch Cassidy:  Who are these guys using Chrome and driving up their popularity numbers?  Then it hit me:  Chrome is probably the required browser for all Google employees, just as Microsoft requires their employees to use IE.  Thus, we may have reached a tipping point at which the number of people who have to use Chrome are beginning to outnumber those who have to use IE;  and this effect may then be spinning out to those free to make up their own minds.  There is also a latency effect:  Someone who used to work for Google (or Microsoft) may have gotten sufficiently accustomed to the respective “home browser” that, left to his/her own devices, that browser remains preferred, just out of habit.  This is not to criticize the surveying techniques of either Net Applications or StatCounter but just to suggest that popularity depends on subtle factors of influence that have nothing to do with the product itself, and controlling for such factors may be so difficult as to be virtually impossible.

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