Google has been promoting Chrome widely, taking out ads, publicizing it on YouTube with Lady Gaga songs and sentimental videos, sponsoring developer events, and devoting a full day at Google I/O to the browser and its close relative, Chrome OS. The company’s primary objective: make the Web a faster, more powerful foundation for software and services.

Although the company offers Chrome for free, Google sees it as an indirect revenue source. For one thing, the company benefits when greater activity on the Web leads to more search and display ads. For another, it offers two options that dovetail with Google’s talking point du jour–the lucrative business of building a platform. Chrome OS, sold in laptops and corporate subscriptions, is one; the other is the Chrome Web Store, through which Google hopes developers will sell Web apps.


Chrome’s growth continues a steady trend, along with a couple others: Microsoft’s Internet Explorer overall lost share, from 55.1 percent to 54.3 percent, and Firefox stayed about level, from 21.6 percent to 21.7 percent. Apple’s Safari has been gaining in usage for months, but it didn’t budge much, moving from 7.2 percent to 7.3 percent. No. 5 Opera dipped from 2.1 percent to 2.0 percent.

One important new browser, Firefox 4, outpaced its predecessor in May. It had 10.1 percent of usage compared to 9.1 percent for the earlier version 3.6. Firefox, after years as the top alternative to IE, is itself now an incumbent defending its turf: Chrome, Safari, and Opera together account for more usage than Firefox, and Chrome has well over half Firefox’s share.

IE9, which emerged in March and embodies Microsoft’s effort to become competitive in the modern browser market, is making steady gains. It rose from 2.4 percent of users in April to 4.2 percent in May, Net Applications said.

Microsoft prefers to measure IE9’s success on a significantly smaller market, Windows 7 machines. IE9 doesn’t run on Windows XP, which is still very widely used, or on Macs or today’s mobile devices. In that market, IE9 was used by 12.2 percent of people in May, Net Applications said.

The Internet’s present development is held back by the widespread continuing use of IE6, which doesn’t support a wide swath of modern Web standards and which runs JavaScript programs very slowly. It’s particularly common in China, South Korea, and India, but globally, IE6 usage dropped from 11.4 percent in April to 10.9 percent in May. Microsoft is trying to coax people to upgrade by promoting its IE6 Countdown site, which provides scary-looking banner graphics and reasons to upgrade.

One notable item: IE9 is due to arrive in Microsoft’s “Mango” update to Windows Phone 7, set to debut by the end of the year. Given WP7’s low market usage today, don’t expect that to significantly change IE9 statistics anytime soon.

Apple’s iOS, though, is a different matter. The OS is gaining in usage, accounting for 2.2 percent of operating systems used to browse the Net. Unlike on Mac OS X, it’s pretty unusual for people to use a browser besides Safari, especially since alternatives must use Safari’s rendering engine underneath.

Google has made a different choice with its mobile OS, Android. First, Google permits other browsers, and Firefox and Opera Mobile are available for Android, complete with their own Web page rendering engines. Some Android devices even ship with Opera Mini–a “proxy” browser that actually relies on a remote server to process Web pages.

Another difference from Apple and and Microsoft: Google chooses not to brand the mobile browser shipping with its Android mobile OS as Chrome. At May’s Google I/O conference, Chrome leader Sundar Pichai said the reason is that, although the Android browser is derived from the same WebKit open-source project that Chrome (and Safari) use, it’s not the same code base as Chrome.

That may seem like a fine distinction, but when it comes to brand issues–for example, a Web developer promising visitors that a Web site “works with Chrome”–compatibility and feature support is a real issue.

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