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Microsoft's new Edge browser: Boon, bust or both?

Gregg Keizer | Sept. 4, 2015
Mixed messages from metrics firms hint at user growth but usage decline; the latter could upset Microsoft's revenue plans for Windows 10.

(The other browser that can be tracked as a percentage of its potential is Apple's Safari, which runs only on the Cupertino, Calif. firm's OS X. Safari, as a fraction of OS X, held steady in July and August at 66%, even though the usage share of the Mac operating system slipped from the first to the second month.)

The reports from both Net Applications and StatCounter are puzzling in that they show Edge being used by a minority of Windows 10 users and generating an even smaller fraction of Windows 10's online usage. Because Edge is set as the default browser during Windows 10 setup -- even if another had been tapped as the default in Windows 7 or 8.1 before upgrading to 10 -- and since the general belief is that defaults of any kind are rarely changed by users, the expectation was that Edge would be the browser of choice on Windows 10.

Microsoft certainly thought that, or it would not have gone to the trouble of making Edge the default and crafting a more complicated process to change to a competitor. That meant it had to be willing to take heat for the move from customers as well as from rival Mozilla, whose CEO blasted the switch as, "Throw[ing] away the choice your customers have made about the Internet experience they want, and replac[ing] it with the Internet experience Microsoft wants them to have."

It's possible to interpret the small increase in Edge's user share (estimated by Net Applications) as a trend that will continue as more mainstream Windows users adopt 10. Under that theory, the enthusiastic users who were first in line for Windows 10 were more knowledgeable about Windows in general, and so were more likely to quickly switch from Edge to another browser than will be the general population.

But Edge's decline in usage share (measured by StatCounter) could be just as true, signaling that its users are relatively inactive online even as their numbers grow.

If the latter is accurate, Microsoft will suffer financially. The company has acknowledged that it must find new revenue for Windows 10 as it promotes the OS as a service, a strategy that drove both the free upgrade offer and the promise to upgrade it free of charge for a decade. One of the planned revenue generators was to be Microsoft's Bing search engine, which not surprisingly, is both tightly integrated throughout Windows 10 and the default provider for Edge.

A lower-than-anticipated usage of Edge means fewer searches on Bing, which means fewer search result ads displayed, which means less money to Microsoft.


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