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The Need For Browser Testing

Ok, I’ve done a fair amount of work over the years in browser compatibility. From web development work, to writing the reporter tool. I’m well acquainted with the stress of testing your beautiful site against a dozen different browsers/versions/platforms. I just recently did so with which I launched the other day. IE5,5.5,6, Firefox 1.0, 1.5, and soon 3.0 (2.0 is pretty similar to 1.5, so likely not much trouble), Safari, Opera! It’s a drag.

What drives me nuts is I can’t keep parallel versions of IE on 1 system to test against. I want to test against IE 5.5, 6, and 7 (RC1 as of this post). This hack lets you have IE 7 as a standalone, but the broken stuff is rather critical.

So what does a web developer do?

  • Keep several computers lying around with different browser versions? This seems costly?
  • VMWare (or Parallels) with different configurations? This too is rather expensive, as Windows licenses aren’t just given out like Linux.
  • Install/uninstall each and every time? That’s excessively time consuming to test between just IE6 and IE 7.

I know there are some services out there that will give you screenshots of your page, but that doesn’t work for things like JavaScript functionality testing, and debugging. So those are effectively worthless for most purposes.

So what is the recommended approach to testing between IE versions? I haven’t been able to find any recommendation from Microsoft on the topic (if anyone knows of one, please point it out). Perhaps it’s a topic for the guys over at the IE Blog?

The same question goes for Safari? How can I a Mac OS X Tiger guy, test how my apps ran with whatever version of Safari someone with Mac OS X 10.3.6 would have? Or 10.2 (though to be honest, I have a 10.2 machine around)? Perhaps it’s a topic for their blog as well?

For the record, all Firefox releases can be found here, Opera can be found here.

So what’s the “best practice”? So far it seems the jury is out on IE and Safari. Firefox and Opera are a pain, but easily done. So what do you do?

14 replies on “The Need For Browser Testing”

I’m on Linux and use the ies4linux package for the most basic testing. It installs IE 4, IE 5, IE 5.5, and IE 6 in separate WINE setups. They start up and run fast, but they do have some issues, so I also have two virtual machines available for IE 6 and IE 7, using the free VMWare Server product.

Microsoft’s official answer is that there is no solution other than using separate computers or virtual machines.

Ditto what David Hammond said. I use Ubuntu 6.06 at home and Fedora Core 5 at work and both places I have shortcuts for IE5,5.5, and 6 on my desktop. They’re running via wine so the performance is sometimes a little funny, but for testing layout and (more often) javascript, they work great!

Isn’t it funny there is a tool to automate installing multiple versions of IE on linux, but not (that I’ve seen) on windows?

The official answer for Microsoft is that you can use Microsoft Virtual PC: look at the end of the post

But they don’t say if we must buy a new license of Windows XP or we are allowed to use a pirated version as for sure I won’t buy one just to test the pages in another browser.

Maybe this can help you:
I never tried it but a friend said it works.

Browsershots is a free online platform where you can test your web design in different browsers. When you submit your web address, it will be added to the job queue.
A number of distributed computers will automatically open your website in their browser. Then they will make screenshots and upload them to the central server here.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no end-user supported way other than, perhaps, virtual PCs, but the hack that you already mentioned is, I believe, how the IE developers are able to work on a new version of IE without messing up a relatively stable IE.

Individuals don’t have to pay for vmware server (or, at least, t’s a free download from their website). You only have to pay for the advanced server stuff, that you wouldn’t generally run on a desktop, anyway.

Cornelius: A few issues:
1. Many/Most PC’s come with a Windows XP install, but that’s limited to the hardware and won’t install in any virtualized environment, so it requires a minimum investment in another copy of WinXP. Only documentation I see is this and this, both of which seem related to Vista more than XP.
2. Any documentation on using the same license with VirtualPC instances? Can I run 2 instances of Virtual PC (one for IE 5.5, and one for IE 7), and run my primary OS off of one WinXP license?

As to why pay for VMWare, the reasons I could think of would be performance (huge difference), and better hardware emulation (USB is unusable in VPC).

VMWare Player is free, as well as VMware Server, so the question would be Why to use a MS product instead of a better one?

And as Robert has pointed out not everybody has the Windows CD in order to install wherever they please.

I installed ie7 rc1 on my computer and run ie6, ie5 and ie5.5 each in vmware player. Any version of opera and netscape can be installed as a standalone. unfortunately, I still have to run over to a designers Mac to test safari and ie5mac.

Vmware player is free and theres an easy way to create vmware player files for any OS.

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