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Physicist's Computer Choices

September 2000

Comparing Numbers - Aug. 2000

Table showing % of visitors running various systems.
System     DC PHYSICS   Humor   the Counter
Win 95:       20.30     20.30     17.59
Win 98:       56.52     49.38     65.70
Win NT:       14.62     17.53      7.68
Win 2000:      0         0         2.87
Win 3.x:       0.12      0.22      0.18    
Mac:           3.66      4.69      1.99
Linux:         1.41      2.59      0.30
Unix:          0.96      2.07      0.20
Web TV:        0.17      0.59      0.75
FreeBSD:       0.03      0.04      --
OS/2:          0.02      0.02      0.03
Other:         2.18      2.59      2.72

Web Browser   DC PHYSICS   Humor  the Counter
IE 2.x:          0.19       0.70     0.76
IE 3.x:          0.56       0.81     0.58
IE 4.x:         12.58      14.95    18.48
IE 5.x:         57.66      52.09    62.77
Netscape 2.x     0.02       0.05     0.76
Netscape 3.x     2.45       3.18     0.56
Netscape 4.x    26.20      27.70    13.96
Opera:           0.13       0.13     0.14
K Explorer:      0.02       0        --
Corel Explorer:  0.01       0        --
Gecko:           0.02       0.09     --
Other:           0.16       0.31     1.17
The fact is that web pages look different on different computers. Macs use smaller fonts, various screen sizes and color depths are used, different plugins and features are enabled ... How is a web site owner to know which computers to design for?

Part of the answer is to check your web server logs. When a visitor requests a page from your site, your computer stores information that was given by the visitor's computer. Typically this includes their operating system and web browser. Some web sites - such as those running Active Server Pages (files end in .asp - sometimes taken to mean "Amazingly Slow Pages") use this information to customize the pages for each visitor. For the most part however, this information just sits there never read. If you do read it you can learn a bit about who visits your site, and thus know whether you really want to bother with something like making your JavaScript still work for Netscape 2.x.

For a large set of information gathered from thousands of web sites, check out theCounter - Global Statistics. The problem with this is that your web site is probably not typical, especially if it is a Physics site like mine. Though I get diverse visitors (from elementary schools to research laboratories), I don't get people looking for porno pictures, weather information... I have my own unique visitor profile. The table demonstrates what I typically find when comparing my stats from DC Physics or my Physics Humor Page with those of The Counter. Though my statistics for August are only based on tens of thousands of visitors (compared with hundreds of millions for The Counter), they are pretty stable from month to month and show the same relative trends as demonstrated in the table.

Operating systems
We agree that its a Windows world out there. The Counter shows 94% of visitors running Windows, while DC Physics gets 91%. The 3% difference is mostly in Mac and Linux/Unix. We see twice as many Mac users and 4 or 5 times as many Linux/Unix users as the "average" site. My suspicion is that a site which appealed more exclusively to University level Physics would see the Windows numbers drop more and the Mac, Unix, Linux numbers rise. In fact that is the case for the Physics Humor Page column. The Humor Page has been around for several years and is linked from over a thousand pages, mostly at Universities. I believe that this is the reason for the larger number of Mac/Unix/Linux users showing up.

Web Browsers
Here is where a larger difference shows up. The fraction of users running Internet Explorer was 80% on an "average" site, 71% on DC Physics, and 69% in Physics Humor. The biggest difference was in Netscape 4, where I get twice as many visitors as the Counter shows. This may be related to a dislike of Microsoft among many academics, or it may just be that they have more confidence or ability than most people to try a different browser than the one that came on their computer. The "Explorer" numbers are interesting... in Linux the file managers "Corel Explorer" or "K Explorer" can operate as web browsers by typing a web address into the filename box. It seems that some Linux users do surf the web this way, but the vast majority use Netscape (they may prefer it, or they may not even know about the Explorer option). "Gecko" is a web engine that Netscape has made available for others to build into their software. Opera gets about .14% on all lists. Though it is still on the fringes, those who like it tell me they *really* like it so it has potential to get more popular as word spreads.

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