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When are you going to upgrade that Browser?

© December 2007 Anthony Lawrence

eWeek's Lisa Vaas has a good post on Microsoft's latest chest thumping about browser security: Microsoft Report on IE Security Draws Mozilla Rebuttal. Larry Seltzer also commented on this at Browser Insecurity Wars Still Rage.

I have to agree with Mozilla's Mike Shaver on the issue that Microsoft doesn't necessarily report how many problems it fixes and that (as reported is Lisa Vaas's post) "The vast majority [of the Firefox user base] is updated to the most secure version of Firefox in less than a week". The implication, of course, is that Microsoft users do not upgrade, and I think that's probably true.

For one thing, Firefox users probably cluster more heavily in the "technical" group. Your typical non-techy user may not even know that Firefox exists, and even if he does, he isn't going to upgrade that or IE in most cases. So Firefox does probably get upgraded more often than not.

But what about those technical users? Do they upgrade?

Well, I think I can offer a little insight on that through the stats that Google Analytics provides me for this site. I think it's fair to say that most of the visitors we get here are more or less "technical" people. Sure, we may get an accidental visitor now and then who was searching for something completely non-technical, but I bet that's rare: most visitors here have some background or knowledge in the computer field. So what do the Google stats for this site tell us?

Well, first, most of our visitors use Firefox. All of the stats quoted below are for the period of November 2d, 2007 through December 2d. Here are the browsers detected:

Browser Usage
Firefox 83,717 45.82% 
Internet Explorer 70,774 38.74% 
Safari 16,058 8.79% 
Mozilla 4,974 2.72% 
Opera 4,732 2.59% 
Konqueror 1,146 0.63% 
Camino 784 0.43% 
Netscape 222 0.12% 
Mozilla Compatible Agent 108 0.06% 
(not set) 550.03% 

"Oh, sure", you say, "they are all Linux and Unix users!". Well, no, that's not the case at all. Most visitors are using Windows (or at least their browser makes that claim):

Operating System Versions
Windows 124,394 68.09% 
Linux 28,901 15.82%
Macintosh 28,254 15.47%
SunOS 402 0.22%
(not set) 318 0.17%
FreeBSD 220 0.12%
iPhone 88 0.05%
OpenBSD 31 0.02%
Playstation 3 16 0.01%
iPod 12 0.01%

Now let's look at browser versions. As we know, at this time IE7 is "current" (though it has been available for more than a year now), IE 6 is not so horrible, and anything older is just shameful.

IE Browser Versions
6.0  39,082 55.22%
7.0  31,379 44.34%
5.01  115 0.16%
5.5  97 0.14%
5.0  48 0.07%
5.23  14 0.02%
4.01  13 0.02%
999.1  0.01%
5.17  0.01%
5.22  0.01%

Not too bad, right? Let's pretend most of those IE5 and lower are techs working at customer sites - they'd never run that on their own machines, would they?

At first glance, the Firefox results look similar. The most current Firefox is, but that's only a few days old as I write this. Firefox was released just about the same time as IE7:

Firefox Browser Versions  45,264 54.07%  11,821 14.12%  7,991 9.55%  3,473 4.15%  1,902 2.27%  1,797 2.15%  1,503 1.80%  1,498 1.79%  1,260 1.51%  1,215 1.45%

So, when you consider the release history, it's pretty obvious that our visitors tend to upgrade Firefox more quickly than they upgrade Internet Explorer:

Release History Recent Firefox Versions
2.0 October 24,2006 December 19, 2006 February 23, 2007 March 20, 2007 May 30, 2007 July 17, 2007 July 30, 2007 September 18, 2007 October 18, 2007 November 1, 2007 November 26, 2007 30, 2007

Over 80% of our Firefox visitors are running a version that is less than three months old, while only 44% of IE users are running anything less than a year old. That's a pretty big difference, and let's not forget that these are likely mostly technical people: if this were a different kind of website, the disparity would probably be much higher.

By the way, our Opera users are almost as conscientous as the Firefox users: over 80% are at least at version 9.22 (June 2007).

It does help that recent versions of Firefox watch for upgrades and will even automatically install them.. and as you don't even lose your tabs, many of us are probably in the habit of letting it do that. Windows IE doesn't update itself, though Windows update might (it hasn't for a while now). You also might argue that IE7 has been updated, but that my stats don't break that down. True enough, but still: only 44% are using IE 7 to start with, and it is a year old!

So, I definitely agree that Firefox (and Opera!) users are more apt to update, and I suspect that the stats for this site are actually even biased in Microsoft's favor because of the number of technically savvy visitors we're more likely to attract.

Final conclusion: Microsoft is spewing FUD as usual.

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