Browsers and Operating systems

The next set of questions we asked focussed on the respondents day to day technology use — the browsers and operating systems they use themselves, and then asked which browsers they test the web sites and applications they build with.

We asked about the technology use of the respondents themselves as we felt it might give an insight into trends such as the adoption of particular operating systems, particular browsers, for example Google’s recently released Chrome, over time, and so on. It’s widely believed (though far from easily proven) that early adopters like those who responded to this survey give at least some indication of the future behavior of more mainstream users. Certainly, the now widespread adoption of Firefox was prefigured by a significant uptake by tech savvy people, particularly web designers and developers, and similarly, the rise in the use of the Mac OS by mainstream computer users follows a large increase in the use of that operating system among web designers and developers going back some years now.

What operating systems do they use in their day to day work?

Given the still very high reported market share of the Windows operating system (as high as around 90% according to Hitslink in November 2008), the fact that the single largest operating system respondents reported using was Mac OS X 10.5 (at 41.5%), with 10.4 of the same OS reported as the OS of choice by a further 5.3% of respondents, making for a total of nearly 46% of all respondents should come as a surprise, despite the anecdotally high use of the Mac OS by web professionals. Overall, Windows still leads as the single most widely used OS, with a combined XP and Vista percentage of 46.8, less than a percent higher.

Among windows users, XP still dominates Vista by a factor of 4 to 1, reflecting the general slow adoption of Microsoft’s new operating system two years after its release. In fact, respondents who use Windows are less likely to use Vista than Windows users on the whole according to the Hitlink survey quoted above, where the difference was about 3 XP users for every 1 Vista user.

To compare adoption rates, Mac OS X 10.5 was released around a year later than Vista, and has an adoption rate among respondents who use the Mac OS of around 87% (as opposed to Vista’s 20%).

The other significantly used OS is Linux, which around 4.5% of respondents use as their primary OS. This is significantly higher than various sources report for general Linux use.

Which OS do you primarily use for day to day work?
Windows XP46537.68%
Windows Vista1139.16%
Mac OS X 10.4655.27%
Mac OS X 10.551241.49%
No answer50.41%
Non completed100.81%

operating system market share

OS by organization type

If we break down operating system use by organization size, we find that as the size of the organization diminishes, the percentage of users using non-​​windows OSs increases markedly. While the use of Linux stays relatively stable, as the size of the organization diminishes, the percentage of Windows Vista users actually increases from 3% in the largest organizations, to 15% in organizations of 2–10 employees. The proportion of Vista to XP users grows even more dramatically, from less than 1 in 10 in the largest organizations, to more than 1 in 3 in small organizations.

What browsers do they use?

Of more practical interest particularly to web professionals, is the question of which browsers respondents use. Here we asked several related questions. The first two relate to the browsers respondents use themselves, and we then asked which browsers respondents tested their sites in.

Among our respondents, all versions of Internet Explorer combined were used substantially less as a primary browser than Firefox or Safari alone. Internet Explorer 7, the most widely used version of IE at just 3.2% was still used less than Google’s recently released Chrome (4.2%), and only marginally more than Opera (3.1%).

These are of course profoundly different results from general browser market share. For example as of late 2008, Hitslink was reporting IE market share of 70%, Firefox 21%. Safari 7.3%, and no other browser above 1% (including Chrome).

Exactly why such a high percentage of respondents opt for a browser other than the default platform browser (predominantly Firefox, though Opera on Windows is nearly as widely used as Internet Explorer) on both the Mac and Windows is hard to say, and would be worth investigating in follow up surveys. Reasons might include the widespread use of developer tools like Firebug for Firefox, and DragonFly for Opera. A question about development methodology later in the survey might also give some clue. When respondents were asked about their “approach to developing for multiple browsers”, 85% responded either that they

develop to W3C standards, and then work around IE


develop to W3C standards and expect browsers to support these

Given the widespread belief that standards support in browsers other than Internet Explorer is better than in that browser, this factor in itself might account for why both for practical and philosophical reasons, web professionals prefer a browser other than Internet Explorer.

It must be kept in mind that there is no version of Internet Explorer for Mac OS X or for Linux, whereas there are versions of Firefox for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux. A related point of passing interest is that Safari for Windows is used by less than 1% of Windows using respondents as their primary browser.

It’s not surprising too that 75% of respondents replied that they used other browsers in addition to their primary browsers. It’s not clear from the responses (and the question could have been better worded to ascertain more clearly) whether these secondary browsers are used for browsing generally, or testing an development specifically.

Which browser do you primarily use for day to day browsing?
Firefox 2443.57%
Firefox 374160.05%
Safari 210.08%
Safari 325820.91%
Google Chrome524.21%
No answer50.41%
Non completed100.81%

primary browser market share

Mobile Browsing

In future surveys, it would be worth asking respondents about their use of the web with a mobile device. But for now, we can observe the following about mobile browser use.

  • 9 respondents mentioned using the Blackberry browser
  • just under 200, or more than 15%, mentioned using Mobile Safari
  • 20 mentioned using a Nokia browser
  • 42 mentioned Opera Mini
  • 20 mentioned Opera Mobile

It’s clear that Mobile Safari (the browser in the iPhone and iPod Touch) is currently the dominant browser for web designers and developers in this survey. But Opera is surprisingly well represented. It’s interesting to note too that 75% of respondents don’t use the mobile web, or at least not sufficiently frequently for it to occur to them to respond.

Despite the hype surrounding the iPhone and its web browsing capabilities, if early adopters like our respondents are any indication, widespread mobile web use is still some way off.

Other platforms

In addition to PC and mobile browsers, 28 respondents mentioned testing print versions of their sites, 5 with the Wii, and 4 referred to testing on “TVs”. It’s clear, as we’ll see from later survey answers, that the focus of most developers continues to be predominantly on traditional laptop/​PC based browsing environments, with some focus on mobile platforms, and little outside that.

Other thoughts on additional browsers

While Internet Explorer has a surprisingly small percentage of primary users, a further 240 or so respondents mentioned it as an additional browser they use. Given that around 90% of respondents (as we’ll see in a moment) say they test their sites in this browser, I’d suggest that this figure of 240 (or about 20% of respondents) represents some kind of use other than simply testing. It may for example be for visiting a site, or application which only works in Internet Explorer (a still too frequent occurrence), for intranet or internal applications which require Internet Explorer, or so on. In future surveys it may be interesting to try and get some further understanding about why respondents use the browsers they do, and what they use them for.

Google Chrome, recently released to considerable fanfare, rates less than might be expected among this audience as a primary browser. It fares better in regards to alternative browsers, with about 10% of users reporting it as an additional browser. Given 40% of respondents report testing their sites in Chrome, we might once again conclude that this 10% figure represents uses other than simply testing. Keep in mind too that Chrome is available at present only for Windows, and so, particularly given the high number of non Windows using respondents, one would expect an increase in its share once it is available on other platforms.

We’ve already seen the dominance of Firefox among respondents as their primary browser. A further 300 or so respondents, or about 25% also list it as an additional browser. Couple this with the percentages who test with one or more versions of Firefox, which we’ll take a look at next, and among the respondents of this survey, Firefox is still very much the dominant browser.

What browsers do they test with?

Perhaps the single biggest challenge for web designers and developers going back to the middle 1990’s has been the fact that pages appear differently in different browsers. Often this is by design — CSS is designed to give preference to the user’s options for things like font size over the the site’s own style sheets. In other instances, the discrepancies are to do with platform differences (for example the difference in default DPI of Windows and the Mac OS makes for apparently different font sizes on these different operating systems). But many of these discrepancies occur because of bugs in the way the CSS standards are implemented, or differences in implementation of these standards due to ambiguities.

So, developers and designers have found it necessary to test across a range of browsers (including different versions of the same browser) in order to ensure that pages work acceptably across widely used browsers.

A decade ago, developers and designers might test in two versions of Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator (the current, and previous versions). Five or six years ago, before the meteoric rise of Firefox, and the resurgence of the Mac platform, they might even test only in the current and previous widely used versions of Internet Explorer on Windows. Few would test in any kind of device other than a PC or laptop.

But as of the end of 2008, where are respondents testing their sites?

We first asked about the commonly used browsers that respondents tested their sites in.

Which browsers do you test your web sites with?
Firefox 260448.95%
Firefox 3113591.98%
Opera Mobile614.94%
Safari 223719.21%
Safari 399280.39%
Mobile Safari25920.99%
Google Chrome48839.55%

browsers users test with

Glancing at the results, what’s probably most surprising is how few people test in Internet Explorer 8 (29.5%, compared with 40% for Chrome, 50% for Opera, and around 20% for both the long outdated Safari 2, and mobile Safari). While IE8 is still in beta, there had been versions released for nearly 10 months at the time of the survey, and with significantly improved standards support, a new standards mode, and related issues around targeting different rendering modes for developers to contend with, it’s surprising more developers haven’t already started testing their sites in this version of IE.

Some reasons which might account for this low uptake include

  • the difficulty of running multiple versions of IE on the same system
  • a sense that sites which work fine in IE7 will also work fine in IE8
  • since the current version of IE8 is not final, the sense that testing and addressing issues before a final candidate release might be a waste of effort
  • perhaps a sense with Microsoft’s efforts to provide better support for standards based rendering, IE8 will render pages a lot more like Firefox, Opera and Safari
  • A still tiny (less than 1%) market share in late 2008 for the browser

This low test rate nonetheless took us by surprise.

Other results of interest include the fact that less than 80% of respondents now test their sites with IE6, despite its reported market share of around the same as Firefox, which has a test rate of over 90%, and nearly 3 times Safari’s market share, which has a similar test rate to IE6.

This would suggest that respondents favor the browsers they use over more popular browsers when it comes to testing. A later question we asked, which we’ve already referred to, regarding development methodology, might throw some light on this as well. As we’ve seen, when respondents were asked about their “approach to developing for multiple browsers”, 85% responded either that they

develop to W3C standards, and then work around IE


develop to W3C standards and expect browsers to support these

The trend it would seem, is for developers to focus on currently shipping browsers, and less so on legacy browsers. This will be an interesting trend to follow in future surveys.

Mobile Browsers

With the mobile web an increasing reality, it’s interesting to see that only around 20% of respondents tested their sites in Mobile Safari, and less than 5% in Opera mobile. Looking into what “other” browsers respondents were asked they tested in, we find only 2 references to Nokia browsers, one to OpenWave mobile browsers, 6 to Blackberry, 4 to Opera Mini, and only 2 for Windows Mobile IE.

So, it’s clear that for all the talk of the mobile web finally arriving, even the significant majority of early adopter developers don’t test in even the most commonly used mobile browsers. Coupling this result with a later question “Do you optimize your sites for devices other than laptops/​PCs?”, where around 25% of respondents answered yes, with some kind of mobile browser being the overwhelming majority of browsers respondents mentioned optimizing for, this suggests there’s still a way to go before it’s common that developers focus on even testing for common mobile browsers, let alone specifically develop for them.

This might be in part due to the perception that since the overwhelming majority of mobile web users use the iPhone or iPod Touch, with a version of the Safari browser, (and other mobile platforms like Nokia’s S60, and Android based phones use a browser based on the same underlying Webkit technology), that if it’s fine in Safari, it will also be in these related browsers as well. This might also account for the very high (80% +) percentage of respondents who test in Safari 3.

It will be interesting to see how the number of people testing in mobile browsers changes in the coming 12 months, and it would be expected that a considerably higher percentage of developers will be testing in some kind of mobile browser 12 months from now.


Next we’ll look at the technologies and philosophies that respondents use to develop for the web.