Chrome's Ascent, Vista Zombies, and iPad Disappointment

In this post I will present some stats around our students' choice of browsers and operating system which I have been gathering for the last month, as we begin a new academic year. These figures were arrived at in a similar way to my recent analysis of this blog's readership, using Google Analytics. Google Analytics stats were collected on visits to the login page for our student Google Apps domain.

Of particular note is that Internet Explorer is now at a rather meagre 42% take-up, with Chrome and Firefox vying for equal second place in the browser league table at 23% each.  In reality we may have any number of people who use more than one browser, but I'll quickly gloss over that and move on... :-)

The stats also sound a note of caution around any assumptions that Windows Vista can now be safely ignored - 40% of the machines using our service were running Vista. The digerati may have written it off and moved on, but people out in the real world are actually still running this stuff.

If the Vista and Windows 7 users are combined, then a full 75% of requests were from versions of Windows that we do not formally support - in the sense that packaged desktop installs or virtual machines are not readily available for staff to use for compatibility testing etc. Our Windows 7 managed desktop service will be launched in the near future, but it is easy to see that staff working on web development (such as our VLE or student portal project) are likely to end up running multiple "non-standard" browser and operating system versions in order to adequately test their work from a student perspective.

Whilst Vista is a meme that refuses to die, this year's dominant topic has failed to make its presence felt.  Yes, I'm talking about the iPad - which only registered 321 visits out of 378,275 during this period. I have previously blogged about the disruptive and in some ways revolutionary aspects of the iPad, and frankly this poor showing was more than a little disappointing. As everyone readies their tablet products for the Christmas season (and with the new, more attractive, Kindle pricing) it will be interesting to return to this topic from time to time...

When reading the table above it is easy to see only the 87% usage of Windows, but the fact that almost 10% of our students have chosen to use Macs indicates that (as with browser preferences) there is a clear mandate for cross platform compatibility. This is of course most readily met by using Macs as the platform of choice for developers and support staff, and indeed we have made some inroads into this recently by creating a triple booting student workstation area. This has 180 iMacs booting into your choice of Windows XP, MacOS X and CentOS Linux - with specialist applications installed as part of the OS image. I suspect that the multiple boot paradigm isn't quite right for developers and support staff, though, as people are likely to find themselves wanting to run multiple OSes and browsers in parallel and flicking between them as necessary.

Incidentally, at Loughborough we have nearly 1,500 student workstations (OK, lab PCs :-), of which virtually all are running our centrally managed Windows XP image. This leads me to wonder how many of the Windows XP visits (25% of the total) came from these machines. That seems to be a question too far for Google Analytics to answer, though.

I was very pleased to see that in our user community IE6 has been virtually eradicated, which was a huge relief given our plans for a fluid Web 2.0 portal. In fact nearly 2/3 of requests to our site by Internet Explorer users were from IE8. This shows that Windows Update has  managed to successfully upgrade a substantial number of "unmanaged" machines - bearing in mind in particular that only 35% were running Windows 7 to start with. The gulf between corporate time and Internet time becomes even more stark when one considers that Firefox and Chrome users are continually being sent a drip feed of updates. My feeling is that it would be very difficult for us to integrate either of those browsers with our managed desktop QA testing and release processes, but I think there will come a point (perhaps quite soon) where we cannot afford to "ignore" them and will have to reconcile this somehow.

We have recently spent some time debating the merits of fixed width stylesheets in providing a consistent view of the information on a web page, and in the portal context whether we are potentially wasting usable space on widescreen monitors. It is therefore illuminating to see that there are a relatively small number of dominant resolutions.  That 768 pixel vertical resolution lowest common denominator could be key to avoiding scrolling on our portal pages!

Loughborough is a particularly rich and diverse environment, with students from around 130 countries studying at the University. There is a notably strong representation from China and Taiwan, and this is illustrated nicely in the browser language preference stats below. Although the less commonly spoken languages are not reflected here, it may be worth pausing for a moment to consider that 30,938 of the 378,275 visits (8%) were from browsers set to languages other than English.

Following on from this, a nice graphic of the 119 different countries that people have visited our Google Apps site from.  Still no Greenland, sadly :-(

And areas of the UK that people have visited our site from...  It might look as though we have no Scottish or Welsh students, but I suspect what is actually happening here is this that Google are selecting locations associated with WHOIS database registrations and the like. London looms very large in the list of cities that students are supposedly visiting our site from.

One final note, and a massive health warning more generally for the data presented here - these visits did not necessarily conclude in successful login sessions to Google Apps!

Martin Hamilton

Martin Hamilton works for Jisc in London as their resident Futurist.