Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome Web browser ended 2011 with 19.1 percent desktop market share, making significant gains against Mozilla's Firefox browser.
Net Applications said Chrome grew to 19.1 percent through December 2011, up from 18.2 percent in November. Firefox fell to 21.8 percent, from 22.1 percent through November.
Market leader Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer also lost share, falling to 51.9 percent from 52.6 percent over the last two months of 2011. Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) Safari browser maintained its 5 percent market share through the year.
Safari may not be making inroads on the desktop, but it dominates mobile market share more than IE leads the desktop pack. Apple's mobile browser enjoys 53.3 percent share, thanks to the iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch.
Opera Mini follows at a distant No. 2, netting 26.6 percent share. Google's Android browser, which powers more than 200 million handsets and tablets worldwide, is third with 15.9 percent share.
Chrome's rise in the desktop browser market continues to be the big story. eWEEK noted a month ago that Chrome could catch up or overtake Firefox early next year, thanks largely to its rapid release cycle, a strong advertising campaign and word of mouth.
That certainly is a strong possibility. With Chrome within 3 percentage points of Firefox, it could catch the open-source browser by the end of March, if not sooner.
Yet Firefox won't go away anytime soon after the deal Mozilla CEO Gary Kovacs just nailed with its browser partner/rival.
Google reportedly agreed to pay Mozilla $300 million a year for the next three years to be the default search engine for the Firefox toolbar.
Neither Google nor Mozilla would confirm the terms of their agreement. How will the deal benefit Google and Mozilla? Firefox has hundreds of millions of users, so this is prime real estate for Google.
Mozilla is arguably a bigger beneficiary, reaping a massive war chest of funds to keep fueling Firefox and its other open-source projects around safe browsing, messaging, mobile Web and other development areas.
Also, Google and Mozilla together can help keep Microsoft IE honest and the software maker's Bing search engine down.