No matter what other presences you may have on the web, your own website is still a must. Professionally-designed websites should, of course, look good no matter what browser a user has. But it’s surprisingly tough to test all the ways that your site may look.
The web development company that I manage maintains a series of machines so that we can check the sites we design in a multitude of environments. But if such a setup isn’t feasible for you, you might want to try one of these options for cross-browser testing.
This web-based service is simple and offers a comprehensive set of browsers. If you need to know how your site will look in some very obscure browsers (including the text-based browser Lynx, and a few others that I’ve never heard of) on just about every operating system variant, Browsershots can help.
I asked Browsershots to display its default selection of 63 browsers. The app gives you an estimate of how long it will take for the screenshots to show, which wasn’t very accurate. Many of the shots appeared within a couple of minutes, and most were available within half an hour. The final three images never did appear; I gave up after three hours. The screen displays clickable thumbnails that expand to 1024 pixel wide PNG files that you can save locally.
Browsershots is free, but you can purchase “priority processing” to improve load time for $29.95 per month.
This web-based service tries to go further than just providing screenshots by offering interactive views from several versions of Firefox, Chrome and Opera. Spoon says that “Microsoft has asked us to remove Internet Explorer”. Unfortunately, none of the browser emulations seem to work on Macs at all, in either Safari or Firefox. And despite Spoon’s claim that their service runs with “no installs,” Windows users must install a plugin for their system to work in Firefox, IE or Chrome.
This service is also web-based, but provides an interactive view of browsers running in virtual machines. Some of the IE variants that the service supports actually seem to be rendered using IE Tester.
The service is in beta, and when I tried Browserling, it appeared to be having some technical problems, and their virtual machines were crashing a lot. But the concept is a good one, and I hope the company gets the kinks worked out.
Browserling is free during the beta period, and can be used for 90 seconds per session without registration; that’s not much time, since the service’s virtual machines take a while to boot. But you can also register at no charge, which will give you access to five-minute sessions.
Multi-Browser Viewer combines installed Windows software with a subscription. I haven’t tried this product, but it offers 22 browser versions, including IE6, IE7, IE8, Safari, Chrome, Opera and Firefox. It also offers five mobile browser simulators, including iPhone and BlackBerry, plus screenshot creation for over 60 Mac, Linux and Windows browsers.
It has several pricing plans, starting from an access plan good for 14 days at $29.95, or you can buy the software plus a one-year subscription for $139.95 (subsequent years are $99.95). A 14-day trial is also available.
If you don’t need the comprehensive options above and are running Windows, you might want to try the IE Tab add-on for Firefox or Chrome, both of which simulate Internet Explorer in other browsers. You can also try the IE Tester software used by Browserling.
To make sure that your site looks good on mobile devices, check out the emulators for such popular mobile web browsers as:
Of course, many other factors affect website usability, including:
- Operating system
- Screen size, resolution, and orientation
- Installed fonts
- Processor speed
- Available memory
so the tests above should be supplemented with as much real-world testing as can be arranged.
How do you test websites?
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