Be Careful When Comparing Browser Download Records

Martin Brinkmann
Mar 17, 2011
Updated • Aug 30, 2018

Sebastian Anthony over at the Download Squad today looked at the total number of downloads of Internet Explorer 9 in the first 24 hours of release.

He mentioned that the 2.3 million figure looked impressive at first, but not so much anymore when it is compared to the Firefox 3.5 release which managed to break the 5 million downloads mark in the first 24 hours.

He looked even further back to note that Firefox 3 was downloaded a total of 8 million times during the first 24 hours after launch.

Opera 11, which Sebastian failed to mention, was downloaded a total of 6.7 million times on the first day of release in December 2010.

If you look at the raw numbers the difference is impressive. Firefox 3.5 had more than twice as many downloads, and Firefox 3 even more than three times as many as Internet Explorer 9.

Sebastian did miss to mention factors that may be used to explain the difference in numbers.

The most obvious difference is that Internet Explorer 9 was released only for PCs that run Windows Vista or Windows 7. The browser is not available for previous versions of Windows, e.g. Windows XP, nor is it available for Linux or Mac devices.

If you compare that to Firefox's compatibility you see that the Mozilla developers managed to target a larger audience with the browser.

Windows 7 and Vista together have a market share between 30% and 40%. Compare that to the 95%+ that Mozilla or Opera were able to target during the release of the Firefox and Opera browser.

Still, market share is not the only factor that played a role for the number of downloads in the first 24 hours.

Internet Explorer 9 is currently only available via direct download. Microsoft has not yet pushed the browser via its Windows Update service, but will begin to do so from March 21 on according to the official Internet Explorer Twitter feed.

internet explorer 9 windows update

internet explorer 9 twitter

Firefox 3.5 users on the other hand were able to check for updates on the day of release to update their version of Firefox to the latest available version. Firefox 3 was different as Mozilla promoted the launch in an effort to break the word record for downloads in the first 24 hours after release. This is one of the explanations for the sharp drop in downloads between Firefox 3 and 3.5.

The two factors alone should be reason enough to avoid the comparison. It would be interesting if Mozilla would collect detailed Firefox 4 launch data, for instance to see how many Windows versions of the browser were downloaded, and even better, how many Windows Vista and Windows 7 users downloaded those Windows versions from the official site and not via the automatic update feature.

Then again, this would not be a fair comparison either considering that many third party download portals are offering Firefox downloads, and that a number of users who used automatic updates to update the browser would have downloaded the browser from other sources if that option would not be available.

Both browsers were downloaded a lot of times in the 24 hours. That's good considering that both are improvements over previous versions. I think we should leave it at that. What's your take on the story?

Be Careful When Comparing Browser Download Records
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Be Careful When Comparing Browser Download Records
The article discusses why the comparison of download records for web browsers is problematic.
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  1. milithruldur said on March 19, 2011 at 4:38 am

    Just one more reason why statistics and numbers can lie, without looking with scrutinizing eyes. :)


    1. Neil said on April 28, 2011 at 5:03 pm

      i Think I`m not Alone In saying,The Amount Of downloads Means Nothing If you Downloaded Both To Try And Then Deleted The one You didn’t Like.I Did This And Kept Ie9.No Probs What So Ever.

  2. Sebastian said on March 17, 2011 at 3:35 pm

    Hehe, I thought a post like this might pop up somewhere :)

    I’m actually addressing my mistakes in a post that I’m writing right this second…!

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on March 17, 2011 at 4:06 pm

      Sebastian thanks for stopping by, will read it once the feed is updated in my RSS reader.

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