Enterprise Software

Should Web developers keep up with browser statistics?

Tony Patton explains why developers may want to keep up with Web browser statistics and describes where to find this information. Discuss how browser market share impacts your development work.

TheCounter.com data for August 2008 show that Internet Explorer 6.x and 7.x make up 77% of the Web browser market, with 17% of the market going to Firefox. So do you use this knowledge when designing a Web application? I do to some extent.

Although I don't track Web browser statistics very closely, I do keep up with the latest browser version and what is the most popular (or used), and I design with standards in mind. I also test with the most used browsers (which is why I need to know what is going on) to ensure the Web application works as planned.

Here are three reasons why I can see that developers may want to keep up with Web browser statistics:

  • To monitor which Web browsers are most used on their site.
  • To create a test plan.
  • To design with the most popular browsers' standards in mind.

Keeping up with Web browser statistics

If you are interested in monitoring Web browser usage, there are a variety of resources available. These resources provide details (numbers, percentages, etc.) on the visitors and their browser to a particular site or group of sites. The following list includes a sampling of these sites.

  • TheCounter.com offers a subscription service where users can track browser usage for their sites. It counts/tracks only the page on which it is installed. You may also access global statistics for all sites.
  • W3Counter offers a free and a paid solution for monitoring a Web site's audience. It also offers global statistics.
  • W3Schools has a variety of wonderful free tutorials for Web developers. In addition, it provides browser statistics and other details about its visitors. (Note: W3Schools places Firefox with a 42.6% share. The larger share for the open source browser should not be a surprise since the site provides training on Web standards as well as some proprietary technologies.)
  • Market Share is a commercial product for tracking individual site usage statistics. This product also provides a global report.

It is worth noting a few possible anomalies with these statistics. For example, overestimation may occur with page refreshes, loading resources like css or JavaScript files, and feed readers may be counted. (Wikipedia has a good explanation of these anomalies.)

Using Web browser statistics

Web applications should be designed using Web standards with CSS for presentation and JavaScript for behavior, but knowing browser statistics reveals what standards are recognized by the user community. But you shouldn't lean on browser usage statistics to deliver non-standard functionality that isn't supported by other browsers.

Browser statistics are crucial when developing a test plan; that is, an application should be tested with the most popular browsers. Browser statistics also include details about platform, screen resolution, country, and more, so these additional details can be used to construct test plans.

Developing for intranet and Internet applications

When it comes to Web applications, there are two main categories: intranet and Internet. The intranet applications live within a vacuum not accessible to the outside world. The audience for an intranet application is captive and usually consistent, as the browser choice is often dictated by management. This presents a more stable environment for developing applications because there are no worries about a user that may use the application with Netscape 2.0.

Internet applications are open to the world. While they may only target a certain user group and particular browsers, anybody with a connection and browser may access the application. This can introduce more design considerations as the uncertainty of browser can affect what is delivered, or a group of browsers may be targeted (as opposed to one with intranets).

Internet applications are more prevalent than intranet applications, as more businesses open their applications to business partners and the world. However, delivering non-standard functionality on an intranet can be troublesome when a new browser version is delivered that changes what it may or may not support. After all, you do not want to revisit application design with each browser version. You can use the data to decide what standards to utilize, but only intranet applications should be fully aware of the browser used.

How does browser market share impact your work?

Do you think it's important for Web developers to keep up with browser statistics? Do browser trends play into your Web development projects? Do you target one or more browsers? Should browser statistics play any role in application design? Share your thoughts and experience with the Web development community.

Tony Patton began his professional career as an application developer earning Java, VB, Lotus, and XML certifications to bolster his knowledge.


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Tony Patton has worn many hats over his 15+ years in the IT industry while witnessing many technologies come and go. He currently focuses on .NET and Web Development while trying to grasp the many facets of supporting such technologies in a productio...

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