In ancient times it was chicken entrails; today it's market share. People love poring over the latest figures for some market segment and trying extract deep wisdom from them. One of the favourite domains for this game is the browser sector, and some new figures have given rise to a flurry of analyses.
In truth, that's understandable, because one of the factoids that can be extracted is the following:
firefox 3.5 is the most popular browser in the world
with the caveats:
Yes, this is just one source.
Yes, all versions of IE combined still beat all versions of Firefox combined.
Yes, it's just one week.
Personally, I prefer to consider the longer timescale version of that graph, which shows the last 18 months of the worldwide browser sector.
One thing that is striking is the near-indestructibility of Internet Explorer 6's share until version 8 came along, helped by the steady rise of Firefox 3. It's interesting to note that Firefox 3 took over from Firefox 2 very rapidly compared to the switchover from Internet 6 to anything else – a testament to the effectiveness of the Firefox upgrade process.
Finally, it's evident that (according to these figures, at least), Firefox 3.5 is gaining market share faster than Internet Explorer 8: that's really important, because it means that there are more people turning to Firefox than IE8 as they shift from older browsers.
It also augurs well for the future, as the graphs for IE6 and IE7 continue to sink, since it suggests that Firefox will benefit more from this than IE8. Provided that continues, the day when Firefox is unequivocally the most popular browser – and not just the one with the most popular version – will draw ever-closer. And when that happens, we will have a very significant milestone indeed for free software on the desktop.