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Quick and Dirty (and Cheap) Browser Testing

Adaptive Path is a pretty homogeneous company, technologically speaking. We’re a 100% Mac shop. Some of us fire up Parallels to create a Visio document or to play with Expressions, but this is a rarity. As a developer this limits my ability put a page design through it’s paces on disparate platforms and web browsers. Also, we only have a limited need for browser testing. Many of our projects don’t require us to deliver production-level code to a client. It doesn’t make financial sense to spend a lot of time and money setting up a lab and staffing a QA team for browser testing. This is why I love Browsershots.

Browsershots is a automated service that will take screenshots of your site on various browsers. You start a request by feeding the site a URL. That request is distributed amongst a network of volunteer computers each of which is running one or more operating system and browser combination. Sit back and wait for your job to move it’s way through the queue and return your screenshots. I submitted the uxweek.com homepage to 55 browsers and it took about 1 hour to return all of them.

What did I find out? Well, I have a little bit of tweaking if I want IE 5.5 on Windows 2000 to look perfect and something called ELinks on FreeBSD doesn’t like the site at all:

As if the FREE service was great enough on it’s own, the software that powers Browsershots is open source so you can create your own distributed testing environment. Why would you go through the effort? Maybe you have super-secret content that you’d like to keep behind a corporate firewall. Maybe you have the expertise and demand for your own dedicated testing lab. Whatever the rationale, it’s great that the site author was willing to release the source code.

What’s Browsershots NOT good for? Because of the queue nature of the service, it doesn’t work well for real-time trial and error. You would need enormous patience to make a one-line change in your CSS and wait to get a screenshot back only to find that the change didn’t have the effect desired. For the same reason, you won’t want to count on Browsershots for testing pages right after they go live. It just takes to long. Use the service for the occasional testing of your design on an enormous number of platforms when you have the time to wait.

Who’s using Browsershots right now? Take a look at their recent screenshots page.


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