7 Tools To Test Your Sites On All Browsers

Whether you are a project integrator, programmer, designer or in charge of quality control, it is in your best interest to know how to test the compatibility of the sites your company produces in as many browsers as possible. The design in CSS and the behavior in JavaScript can respond very differently depending on the browser used.

According to the w3school, Internet Explorer 6 is still used up to 17.4%, which is significant for business, as we wouldn’t want to alienate some of our customers. We must therefore continue to serve this browser for the majority of commercial sites and for the general public.

I recently purchased a laptop that had a pre-installed version of Vista, only to realize that I could not install IE6 or Multiple IE, the tool I usually use at work. So I took a few hours to search the web for other possible options.

Here is a list of tools to help you test your browsers:

Option # 1 – Standalone Browser and Multiple IE

The “Standalone Browser” is a browser you don’t need to install but that uses resources from your system. It is not entirely reliable, nor legal, and it will not work on all operating systems (Vista, among others). It is very useful to test things quickly, but not practical for more extensive tests.

I have already had some bugs with this tool that was unavailable when I checked on real browsers. Also, some of the features seem to be missing, such as the print preview in Internet Explorer 6. It is therefore not 100% reliable.

You can find several on the site evolt.org, including several versions of IE.
If you want to try several “Standalone Browser” Internet Explorer and you are on XP, I recommend Multiple IE. It will install IE3, IE4, IE5, IE5.5, IE 6 and this could save you some time.

Option # 2 – Buy more computers

The ultimate solution for acquiring real browser versions and not wasting time on browsers that may potentially be different is to buy multiple testing computers with different browsers on each. If you want to test your browser on a Mac, this is one of the best options available to you. Of course, this option is expensive and will take up a lot of your time. Moreover, this solution does not allow you to test locally quickly, can be very greedy in terms of space and may be poorly suited for a large production team.

Option # 3 – SuperPreview for Microsoft Internet Explorer

Microsoft SuperPreview is a new (beta) product from Microsoft that allows you to test multiple versions of Internet Explorer on the same software. The most interesting feature is probably the “onion skin”, which allows you to view the HTML one above the other to see the differences easily.
However, this product only seems to work to test the graphics. You will probably not be able to test the JavaScript/Ajax on your site.

Option # 4 – Services Screenshots

Some sites like browsershots.org allow you to make screenshots of your site and send them to yourself. These Internet services are especially practical for testing a large number of browsers on multiple operating systems (i.e., 90 + and for BrowserShots.org).

However, the majority of these services come with a fee and/or can take long to get results. Moreover, the fact you only get images, you only see the design and you cannot test each page nor the JavaScript. You cannot test in local / SVN either.

Option # 5 – Remote Access

Other sites like browsercam.com also offer the possibility to connect to other computers from your computer remotely. I have not tested these systems, but they seem very interesting. Unfortunately I do not know of any free versions of these systems and it will not be possible to test in local / SVN. If you happen to be a big company, I think it would be possible to create your own remote access.

Option # 6 – The Virtual Machines

The virtual machines are certainly one of the options I find most interesting. The virtual machines are like computers inside your computer. For example, you can drive Linux on Windows Vista or Windows XP on MacOS.

You can create as many virtual machines as you want and install browsers on each. Vmware, one of the biggest players in this field, offers products for Mac and PC allowing you to emulate several operating systems.

Microsoft also has its own emulator, Virtual PC. Microsoft was kind enough to create images for Virtual PC to test the various versions of Internet Explorer (IE6, IE7, IE8). The one little glitch is that images are only valid for 6 months, after which you must return to the site to download the new images.

The virtual machines are much less expensive than physical computers, which take up a lot of space. However, you still have to install the operating system(s) which again will take some time.

Option # 7 – Virtual Applications

Here is another of my favorite options. Instead of having a virtual machine, you have an application that is virtual and won’t conflict with the existing operating system. VMware ThinApp and Xenocode are two programs to create this type of application. But what is most amazing is that Xenocode offers ready-made versions of most browsers. The only downside is that this solution only works for Windows, therefore you may forget to test it on MacOs or Linux.

 

If the trend continues, I think we will have more tools to properly test our sites. If you know any tools that I do not know, I encourage you to give feedback by leaving a comment!

This article was originally written by Maxime Gendreau

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12 Comments

  1. Cool article Max ! Give a try to browsershots.org : it’s free and open source.

    Sent on April 3, 2009 by Olivier Lalonde
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