Maintaining compatibility across multiple browsers

Published on July 20th, 2009 by admin

Today, web browsers are a dime a dozen. But which ones should you support? And how should you do it? The answer may surprise you.

Which browsers should you support?

Use a statistics package to see which browsers are used most on your site.

Use a statistics package such as Google Analytics to get an idea of which browsers your audience is using. This information provides a broader context on how your website is being used. So for example, if your website breaks in IE6 but that’s only 1% of you audience then it’s not the end of the world.

Since this is a web design blog, it's not surprising that most of my users are on Firefox.

Since this is a web design blog, it's not surprising that most of my visitors use Firefox.

The most popular browsers

If you don’t have access to a statistics package then you should prioritize your testing as follows.

  • Internet Explorer 6
  • Internet Explorer 7
  • Internet Explorer 8
  • Firefox 3.5
  • Chrome
  • Safari
  • Opera

This isn’t as hard as it may look because if you build your website in Firefox it will probably work in Safari, Chrome, Opera and Internet Explorer 8. The ones you want to pay extra attention to are IE7 and especially IE6.

There are several ways you can test multiple browsers.

Use two PCs and one Mac

This is the most thorough and reliable way to test your websites. If you’re working with a team then this is even more useful.

Here is how you might configure your computers.

On PC A

  • Windows XP
  • Internet Explorer 6
  • Firefox 3.5
  • Safari

On PC B

  • Windows Vista
  • Internet Explorer 8 (Comes with IE7 mode)
  • Firefox 3.5
  • Chrome
  • Safari
  • Opera

On Mac

  • Safari
  • Firefox

Dual Boot

If you’re a freelancer, one way around purchasing two PCs is to dual boot your pc. Install Windows XP on one partition and then install Windows Vista on another. Then boot up a partition as you need.

There are ways to install Mac OS on a PC but it’s a lot of work, and frankly, a bit risky. If you’re up for the challenge then by all means go for it. But if you’d rather go the safe route then I’d suggest you just buy the mac.

Use Emulators

There are emulators out there that will help you run different browsers (specificially IE6) on computers that already have IE7 or IE8 installed.

Emulators have a few drawbacks however, they are notoriously slow and there is no guarantee that they will run exaclty like a fresh install of the real software.

I’ve only been able to get the emulators to work on Windows XP but there might be some solutions out there for Windows Vista.

Use an online service

There are some free and paid services that will take screen shots of your website in an array of different browsers. There are advantages and disadvantages to this, the one major one being that you can’t test the browser in real time. On the other hand, it’s a good quick way to see if there are any obvious flaws that should be addressed.

  • Browsershots – A free service though it takes about half an hour for it to capture and upload the photos.
  • BrowserCam – This is a paid service. I’ve never used it but I’ve heard good things.

Adobe BrowserLab

Adobe will soon release a very promising service called BrowserLab. It lets you load your website into multiple browsers at the same time. On top of that it lets you look at them side by side. It’s a closed Beta right now and when it’s released it will be a paid service. So it will be interesting to see what develops.

Further Reading

Effectively Testing Your Browser on Multiple Browsers

How to Check Your Website with Multiple Browsers on a Single Machine

Adobe BrowserLab

Free PC / Intel i86 Emulators, Virtualizers and Virtual Machines

How to dual-boot Vista with XP (with XP installed first)

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