The browser myth

11. October 2010

(In reply to Henri’s post)

Most people will probably answer that the web browser is the application they use most often. That might be true, but is it the application they spent their time with when they are working? I certainly hope not!

So, let’s dive a bit more into the topic and think about what people are doing during their work hours:

  • Acquiring information: web browser, PDF, Image viewer
  • Communication: Mail client, Phone, IM (no, people are not using GMail for their work mail, believe me, they use Outlook or Lotus Notes usually)
  • Creating content/working: Office applications, specialised software (CAD, Software development, publishing, etc.)

I haven’t made any statistics of course but I feel this boils down to about 20% acquiring information, 30% communication and 50% creating content or at least this is probably what your employer wants you to do. Basically that would mean you only spent maximum of 20% of your time with web browsing while of course the web browser might be open in the background all the time.

Windows doesn’t have a 90% market share because it integrates the web but because it has an ecosystem that provides all this other stuff people need to do.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be working on better integration on web applications or the web in general but we must know that our target audience is most likely not the professional desktop. There are reasons why many people have a MacBook but work with Windows in their company. There are reasons why people use their iPhone for web stuff only but still have a Windows PC at home. It is because besides all the cloud discussion taking place nearly nobody is creating content with web applications that isn’t made for the purpose of web publication.

If you have statistics, prove me wrong, please! Maybe the company I am working at is totally unrepresentative…

Update: Many peopple comment that they use GMail and Google Office Apps for their work. I doubt that this is general true. Most people reading my blog (or more likely Planet GNOME) are probably geeks or working in a very computer oriented environment.

However, I didn’t look at what apps I am using most but what the people I work with in an engeering department use most. They usually have about 5-20 windows open at a time where the browser is one of them while the work in Microsoft Word or Excel most of the time.

Maybe there are also big differences between Europe and other parts of the world because people and companys here are caring about privacy and data security a lot and therefore don’t move their important data and mail into the cloud and therefore aren’t using Google Apps.

I also really wonder if you all use the web browser for programming. I have never seen someone using a browser based Eclipse, Emacs or Vim even on very geeky conferences. And if programming is your job I certainly hope this is where you spent most of your time.

23 Responses to “The browser myth”

  1. I believe Ubuntu targets consumers instead of companies. This would mean mostly acquiring information IMHO…

  2. Alexey Says:

    i totally agree. just wanted to add, that many companies are stuck on windows because of a ton of in-house software (integrated with other windows software) that they created during many years, and keep creating. and it is not web based, and not cross-platform in any way, except minimal support for legacy windows versions.

    i work in game development studio, and there’s no way it will ever switch away from windows.

  3. Dave Morley Says:

    I believe that the stats will vary drastically on the type of place you work. I work for Canonical from Home so my entire day is spent in online, 90% of my day is browser based with 100% also being spent in irc and a lot of email. However the developers I test for spend more time in emacs and vim and again 100% of the day in irc and again a lot of email.

    My step son works for an engineering firm where the team he works with spend pretty much the entire day in cad. Their admin team though won’t touch the cad applications at all.

    My friend works for a web design company different set of rules again all together.

    Don’t forget that people with smart phone will still be using the web browser to connect to gmail to check their person email etc so the browser is still possibly the most opened application in their day.

  4. Thanks for your comments! I posted some clarifications to my blog entry:

  5. false Says:

    Tons of organizations have switched to Google Apps to provide email… I’ve been through a few jobs recently, defense contractor, one of the largest universities in the US, and a bit of government work and everyone switched to Google Apps for email… I don’t know if its just my area, but Google Apps seems to have really taken off around here, those who haven’t switched yet seem to be planning a switch at the very least.

  6. Ross Burton Says:

    “(no, people are not using GMail for their work mail, believe me, they use Outlook or Lotus Notes usually)”

    So you’ve not heard of Google Apps then?

    • jhs Says:

      Probably Germany is very very conservative in that area but yeah, I don’t know of any Company that switched to Google Apps (but I haven’t worked for shiny new-economy stars yet…)

  7. pel Says:

    Well.. /most/ of the applications i use for everyday tasks at work are webb based these days. I can create new virtual hosts, manage virtual hosts, deploy software, manage software, monitor systems, create reports and file my time reports using web based tools. I /can/ use email through web as well, but.. well.. Outlook sucks even more that way..

    I do a lot of troubleshooting and analysis work, but if I didn’t do that I would probably be using the browser 100% (minus the e-mail then) as far as the ‘work’ is concerned…

    The non work however.. I use Empathy a bit, but mostly for work communication when I’m to lazy to get off of my ass and walk down the hall…

  8. Corey Burge Says:

    I think that you are mostly right. I suspect most people have no idea a) how much of the software that a company runs is custom to it and b) just how conservative most IT depts are. So yes, the consumer world has largely shifted to the web but the corporate world hasn’t.

  9. NSFL Says:

    Remember when people chose Windows at home because they used it at work?

    Companies use Windows because the corporations use Windows. Can’t lose that big contract due to compatibility…

    Corporations use Windows because their pimp, the US Federal Government, uses Windows.

    • Actually one of the reasons why many corporations are stuck with Windows is that many of their business systems are web based. Well, sort of web based, in the IE6-only flavor of that.

      Luckily since then browser competition has forced web developers to think beyond one browser and make systems that work practically anywhere.

  10. Using arbtt, I have statistics of over a year now. It’s roughly 20% browser, 20% terminal, 20% mail, 10% text editor and then other programs. But I would not consider my usage typical.

    See for information on arbtt.

  11. Che Says:

    With most apps moving into the browser the creating and communicating parts are sitting within the browser anyway. Gmail for mail, Google Docs for productivity…more to come?

  12. David Says:

    No, i don’t believe you. You show us the statistics before stating that. People use gmail for his work related email, at least the people in my environment.

    • I guess any statistics proving this issue one way or another are going to be very subjective and anecdotal. But from what I see with my own company and our clients (including some of the biggest corporations in my country), there is a clear momentum from desktop apps to the web.

  13. Joe Buck Says:

    The browser isn’t just a browser any more. For many it’s the interface to email, bug tracking system, wikis, Sharepoint for those stuck with that system, call tracking, the corporate accounting system, and a lot more. Of course, everyone has to deal with many other apps as well, but more is integrated with the browser than before.

  14. Sandy Says:

    My company (litl) uses hosted web apps for pretty much everything. I choose to use desktop apps to interface with some of these web services, but the only thing I absolutely require desktop apps for is development.

    The non-developer employees at my company do not require the use of desktop apps at all.

    Look at universities, governments, small businesses trying to save on their IT budgets…the trend is a clear migration to third-party-hosted web apps for everything from email to chat to document storage and editing. It turns out that it is only a minority of businesses that truly needs to host their own email, that absolutely requires an offline office suite, etc.

    To ignore this is to bury your head in the sand.

  15. Sandy Says:

    I also find it a bit funny that you discount the numerous comments from people using Google Apps as being “too techy”, then bring up the point that developers aren’t programming in web apps.

    I think it’s pretty clear that developers are one of the few remaining groups that actually need anything resembling a traditional desktop operating system.

    I predict that the mythical year of the Linux desktop will come when the only people with desktop computers are stodgy Linux hackers like us.

    • jhs Says:

      I also find it a bit funny that you discount the numerous comments from people using Google Apps as being “too techy”, then bring up the point that developers aren’t programming in web apps.

      I gave the programming example because it is something that the “techy” people might understand. If I give examples like CAD, PDM or whatever they most likely don’t really know what I am taking about.

  16. Craig Loftus Says:

    I work for an old fashioned (rotating bits of metal) transnational engineering firm (French, British, German) who migrated to Google Apps about 6 months ago.

    The info support people (myself included) resisted the move because of the ‘privacy and data security’ issues you refer to (among others), but we were overruled.


  17. Topaz Says:

    I think you are underestimating the non technical use of web apps. is huge for the sales side of organizations. There are a lot of non technical people in my company that use nothing but gmail and salesforce all day.

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