Browser Compatibility Testing: Headaches and a Cure

There’s never been a really elegant solution for browser compatibility. And with the introduction of smartphones, tablets and other devices, browser testing has grown insanely painful. And then you add responsive techniques to the mix, where the same site renders differently at different browser widths. I’ve been building websites for more than 10 years now, and testing sites across browsers has always been a pain. I’ve used many different setups, including a combination of:

  • installs of multiple browsers
  • installs of virtual computers running a variety of operating systems and browser versions
  • many different screenshot services, including Adobe BrowserLab and Browsershots
  • a small collection of physical devices

You probably have the latest versions of a few key browsers on your computer: Chrome, Firefox, Opera, IE and Safari. You probably also have a small collection of devices: a smartphone and a tablet of some kind (iPad most likely of course). And you can connect this collection with Adobe Shadow to make testing on real devices quick and easy.

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But this solution isn’t complete. For starters there are many variables not accounted for here:

  • Older versions of browsers
  • Multiple versions of the same device:
    • iPhone 3 and iPhone 4
    • iPad, iPad 2 and iPad 3
    • Android tablets—dozens of them
    • Android-based phones—mountains of them
    • generations of Blackberrys
  • Multiple operating systems: Windows, Mac OS and Linux, if your audience is made up of nerds
  • Outdated operating systems: You know how your parents are still using Windows XP? About 30% of all internet users are, too.

So, a more robust screen shot service that somehow allows you to deal with this is not really going to help that much. The industry needs a testing tool that allows you to control these actual devices. There have been a few that popped up over the years, but they’ve always been pricy and sometimes difficult to use. Don’t even get me started on the pains of setting up device emulators to test Android code on a desktop machine (painful for normal non-dev humans).

This was a long-winded way of introducing you to what I believe will become the defacto testing tool for years to come: Browser Stack. This slick browser-based service lets you test on a huge variety of browsers and real emulators and starts at $19 per month (very affordable if you test a lot of sites). If you want to work in the modern web community and test sites in meaningful ways, you need a solution like this, and this tool has real promise. 

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