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Network World - After a long, quiet period of Microsoft dominance, the PC browser market has been broken wide-open again in recent years, with Firefox and Chrome challenging Internet Explorer, and Opera sniffing at the margins.
Earlier this year, in fact, Chrome overtook Internet Explorer in one major measurement of browser market share, in what was hailed as a watershed moment for the new browser wars.
However, for a number of reasons, it's difficult to say who's on top in this four-way scrap. For one thing, different methods of measuring market share often provide very different numbers - while data from NetMarketshare.com shows IE in front with 54% of the market for October 2012, StatCounter gives a slight edge to Chrome, about 35% to 32%. W3Schools' information paints another picture again, showing a big lead for Chrome (44%) over about 32% for Firefox and just 16% for IE.
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The difference is understandable - all of the sites measure different data. W3Schools simply measures its own traffic, and, as a web development education site, it is likely to be visited by people with more of an interest in non-IE browsers. (The site has an Alexa ranking of 220, however, giving it a large sample size.) StatCounter tracks visitors to a network of 3 million associated sites, while NetMarketShare counts unique visitors to a smaller network of 40,000 sites. It's easy to see why the numbers can look so different.
But it certainly makes it tricky to say unequivocally that one browser is the one to beat, and that's part of the reason why the browser question is the subject of such a big argument in the tech world (and this doesn't even include mobile browsers, a relatively small market for now).
Either the most-used or second-most-used browser in the world, depending on whom you ask, Chrome has rocketed to prominence since its introduction in 2008. A browser made by the Internet's most powerful company could hardly fail to gain some traction, but the speed with which it has achieved seeming parity with Internet Explorer surprised many - not least those behind Mozilla Firefox, which had labored mightily to reach a respectable second place behind IE.
Chrome's focus on performance and simplicity has paid off well - through its many versions, which are deployed quickly and silently through an automatic update process, the emphasis has been on a smooth, streamlined experience.
Criticism of the browser generally centers on privacy issues. Soon after it was launched, there was an outcry over the Suggest feature, which transmitted keystrokes back to Google HQ. Google's business model, which depends on the use of personal data for accurate ad targeting, hasn't won it many favors among privacy advocates.