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Browser Tests, Services and Compatibility Test Suites


Cross-browser compatibility is still one of the most complex issues when it comes to web-development. Web standards usually guarantee a (relatively) high degree of consistency, however no browser is perfect and particularly older browsers have always been quite good at surprising web-developers with their creative understanding of (X)HTML/CSS-code. Still you need to make sure that (at least) most visitors of your web-site can use it, navigate through it and find what they’re looking for as quickly as possible.

Browsers Tests Are Necessary Link

The truth is that a) you never know who might type in your url in his/her navigation toolbar and b) the browser-environment is still very quirky and the risk of inconsistent presentation is simply too high to ignore it. For instance, different browsers and operating systems use different techniques for rendering fonts (Win vs. Mac on handling fonts1). The font size isn’t identical on different platforms and some fonts might not be installed on the user’s system.

Internet Explore has the browser usage share of 46%2
Worldwide browser usage: IE6 dominates; IE 7 has already more users than Firefox 2. Stand: 01.10.2007. Source3.

Firefox on Linux doesn’t display web-sites as Firefox on Windows does. As bonus web-developers have to cope with dozens of versions and, of course, Internet Explorer 6 — 46% of browser usage share4, which is a true godsend for hardcoders and hackers. It’s almost impossible to keep all possible problems in mind — a detailed test helps you to identify the critical issues — also and particularly if these are the smallest details of your layout.

Browsers Tests: What Can You Do? Link

In fact, browser inconsistencies are hard to deal with, and to be able to deal with them you have to know what the problems are and what browsers render your site in a quite creative way you probably haven’t expected. To ensure the (more or less) identical presentation in browsers you need to verifiy its consistency in a number of browsers — before going live with your project.

And to do just that you can either install a number of web browsers or use web-based browser test services; the latter provide you with an instant remote access to the browsers (via Virtual Private Network (VPN)) or instantly deliver the screenshots of your site

  • in different browsers (Mozilla family, Internet Explorer, Opera, Safari, mobile Browsers),
  • in different screen resolutions (usually 640×480, 800×600, 1024×768, 1200×800)
  • and on different operating systems (Mac OS, Linux, Win).

The effect of your changes can be observed instantly — although you don’t have the browser installed on your PC.

Let’s take a look at some useful services, web-tools and applications you can use to keep an eye on the cross-browser presentation of your site in older, current and new browsers.

Problem Case #1: Internet Explorer Link

By default you can install and run only one version of Internet Explorer on your PC. However, usually you need at least two versions (IE 6 and IE 7) to cover the most quirky bugs in the most used browsers out there. You can use Microsoft’s Virtual PC5 to run multiple browsers simultaneously. But it doesn’t have to be that complex — alternatively you can use TredoSoft’s Multiple IE’s package6.


It is not difficult to follow the instructions and get any version of Internet Explorer (IE3, IE4.01, IE5, IE5.5, IE6) running in standalone along side other versions. All versions are included in the installation package (10 Mb). Please notice that the package doesn’t always work properly; for instance, sometimes IE5, IE5.5 and IE6 crash unexpectedly. Still the tool is useful and better than nothing. The installer works in Windows XP, Windows Vista users have to use Microsoft Visual PC 20078.


If you’d like to test your site in Internet Explorer 7 without installation you can use ieCapture10. (Usually) no queue, instant results — and for free.

Problem Case #2: Safari Link

Also only one version of Safari can be installed under Mac OS X. The current version of the Web Kit Framework determines the rendering of web-sites. Multi-Safari11 offers 10 Safari-versions (1.0 to 2.0.4), which can be installed along side other versions.

Multi-Safari offers a dozen of Safari versions.

Problem Case #3: Linux Link

If you need to test your web-sites in browsers which run under Linux — for instance for your intranet — you might want to check out Knoppix13 or Ubuntu14. With Knoppix you can run Debian GNU/Linux in 5 minutes. In both cases you can start Linux from your CD-ROM. No setup and no installation is required.

Smashing Magazine in Ubuntu’s Firefox

Knoppix has Konqueror and Mozilla already preinstalled; Ubuntu has Firefox 2.0 already “on board”. The free download is possible via BitTorrent or FTP (in both cases 700 Mb); you can also order a free CD.

Browser Tests: Online-Services & Tools Link

If you have critical issues with your sites you might find it extremely useful to install multiple versions of web browsers on your PC. However, if you need to find your way through some minor inconsistencies you might use web-services and web-tools instead. The choice is quite big, however most services aren’t free.

  • IE Web Renderer16
    IE NetRenderer allows you to check how a website is rendered by Internet Explorer 7, 6 or 5.5. The Mixed- und Difference-Views instantly display the differences in site presentation (IE6 vs. IE7) overlaying both screenshots upon each other.

    Web Renderer17
  • Browsershots18
    The tool lets you test your web-sites not only in Firefox, Opera, IE and Safari, but also in some exotic and not so popular browsers (Dillo, Epiphany, Flock, Galeon, Konqueror, Seamonkey) — they can be relevant for intranet. You can adjust the width of the screen size (640 – 1600), color depth (8 – 32 bits per pixel) as well as the JavaScript-, Java- and Flash-support.


    When you submit your URL, it will be added to the job queue; so it depends on the server load when you can observe the taken screenshots. Therefore it’s useful to set a bookmark and visit the site later — the tool offers neither e-mail- nor RSS-notification. You can also download all screenshots in a .zip-file. And there is some nasty advertising. We’ve got a fake security message (pop-up) on load.

  • Litmus20
    Formerly SiteVista, this web-based application doesn’t only provide you with the screenshots of your web-sites, but also offers you the management of your compatibility tests. The screenshots are created in 30 different browsers within seconds; you can also see your entire page from top to bottom, not just the area visible above the fold which is similar for other services. The service also includes a version management tool, and a bug tracking system.


    The tool currently generates screenshots for 17 browsers under Windows and 6 browsers under Mac OS X — more browsers will be added shortly. The tool isn’t as comprehensive as other services, however the price is quite high – 39$ per month for an individual license. What is interesting is that you can also generate screenshots of your email newsletters as they appear across email environments Outlook 2007, Outlook 2003, Outlook 2002, Outlook 2000, Gmail, Hotmail and AOL Mail.

  • Browser Photo22
    The service offers screenshots of Internet Explorer, Opera, FireFox and Safari under Windows, Mac, and Linux. This results in 24 possible combinations. Price: 15$ for one time use, $150 per domain/year for unlimited use.

  • Browsrcamp23
    Browsrcamp generates Safari 2.0.4-screenshots (full size) in five screen resolutions (800 – 1600 px width). The tool itself is free, but Browsrcamp also offers the OS X Live Test24 — a service which gives you the possibility to test your websites by taking full control of a Mac OS X system. You only need to have a VNC client25 (Virtual Network Computing) and a fast connection. Thus you can control your presentation on Camino, Firefox, Flock, iCab, Mozilla, Netscape, OmniWeb, Opera, Safari, SeaMonkey and Shiira remotely. The price range: between 3$ for two days and 99$ per year.

    Of course there is a fullsize screenshot – full page length
  • Browsercam27
    Browsercam, probably the master of screen capture services, also offers an extensive browser remote control via a virtual network client. The number of available browsers, versions and operating systems is permanently growing. 70+ browsers, Linux, Win, Mac and even the presentation in different versions of browsers on mobile devices (BlackBerry, Win Mobile) can be tested. You can also adjust the screen resolution (640×480, 800×600, 1024×768), set up the access to password protected sites and download all screenshots in a .zip-archive.


    The service offers everything you might ever need. Browsercam has different price plans; the price varies bettween 20 and 1000$ per month. There is also a 24 hours free test evaluation which requires the registration on Browsercam.


    The choice is huge…


    …and there are even more screenshot options!

  • BrowserPool31
    Browserpool offers a number of possibilites and screenshot options – probably everything you ever might come up with. Hundreds of combinations, dozens of browsers, thousands of screenshots. This screenshot-service also offers a remote access via a VNC-client. The price range: $40 (per month) und $477 (per year). This package includes 40 free hours per month. You can hold the connection to several dedicated servers at the same time or use the account together with other colleagues simultaneously. To use BrowserPool you need to download a viewer program. Using it you can directly work with a remote browser. There is a free limited test account.


Articles, Resources Link

  • How to Check Your Website with Multiple Browsers on a Single Machine (Cross-Browser Compatibility Checking)33
    The number of extant browsers we need to check with are enormous: Internet Explorer (IE) 7, 6, 5.5 and 5.0, Firefox 2.0 and 1.5, Opera 9 and 8, and so on. And then there are the different platforms: Windows, Macintosh (Mac), Linux, etc. The problem for most people is that multiple versions of certain browsers cannot co-exist with each other, the most notable example of this is IE for Windows. Unless you are privileged to have multiple computers, this presents a certain difficulty for the average webmaster. This article suggests some ways for you to run multiple versions of multiple browsers on one computer.

What can your browser? Link

New browser versions offer new techniques for web-developers; for instance, Safari offers the support of some CSS 3 attributes. You can also test what your browser can and what other browsers are capable of. For instance to find out which attributes you really should use in your projects. And which attributes you shouldn’t use.

  • Acid 2 Test34
    A modern browser should be able to render this complex image, generated with CSS. Most browsers fail.

    Acid 2 Test

  • CSS 3 Selectors35
    Is your browser compatible?
  • CSS2 Test Suite: Prototypical Pages36
    by Eric Meyer
  • Acidic Float Tests37
    The following tests show a floating logo that should stick out of its parent header, a DIV. Subsequent boxes should respect this float.
  • CSS Test Suite38
    These test pages test every aspect of CSS 2.
  • CSS Tests and Experiments39
    A number of examples check what the browser supports and what it is capable of.
    Acid 2 Test
  • Cascading Style Sheets Test Suites40
    Test suite for Cascading Style Sheets level 2 revision 1 by W3C
  • PNG Test41
    The suite of PNG icons for testing PNG decoder engines, PNG viewers, and PNG browsers. Most of the icons are 32×32, and they run the gamut from 1-bit to 64-bit depth; grayscale, colormapped and truecolor; interlaced or not; and with or without simple transparency, full transparency (alpha channel), background chunks, histograms, gamma or chromaticity data, comments, time stamps, and physical pixel dimensions. There are even three invalid PNG images included, one 0x0 in size and the other two corrupted by non-binary transfers.

    Acid 2 Test

Footnotes Link

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Vitaly Friedman loves beautiful content and doesn’t like to give in easily. Vitaly is writer, speaker, author and editor-in-chief of Smashing Magazine. He runs responsive Web design workshops, online workshops and loves solving complex UX, front-end and performance problems in large companies. Get in touch.

  1. 1

    Great article. But browser statististics are not true for Russia, for example. We have about 40% using Opera.

  2. 2

    Sam, I think those statistics are worldwide. There Russia might just count 1%.

  3. 3

    Good post, but I think the browser share figures in the table at the top might be a bit misleading. The site I currently work at (Jobster) shows a combined Firefox usage of 15%, versus the nearly 25% listed at the top of this article. Marketshare Hitslink ( also shows total Firefox usage at about 15%. The 25% listed here may be more accurate for sites that are geared towards technical types and early adopters, while the 15% usage is likely accurate for sites aimed at a broader demographic. Combined IE usage is still north of 75%.

  4. 4

    This is great though I really wish we could see some good browser stats listed within (or references/reviews of browser stat services). The only reference to browser stats listed is a small paragraph & image that doesn’t really tell exactly what it is representing (Worldwide/National/Country-specific and/or based on what content, ie. technical content, general content, etc.). I appreciate the great information on how to test for specific browsers, but perhaps finding out which browsers we should be testing first would be even better.

  5. 5
  6. 6

    I agree with #3, after looking at the stats of several websites I work on, Firefox is around 6-10% in total usage and that includes each version. While IE 6 and 7 combined are around 80%.

    Don’t forget that Safari is available for Windows now! It is still in beta I think, but it renders pages the same as the Mac version and it even uses the same anti-aliasing mechanism used on the Mac.

  7. 7

    Heck yeah for sitevista! I’m curious to try out some of the free services and see how they compare.

  8. 8

    Interesting articel…

    Based on a research we did in The Netherlands under 400.000 visitors between the age of 16 and 55 under 12 general websites, these are the browser statistics.

    IE 6.0 – 47.6%
    IE 7.0 – 41.1%
    Firefox 2 – 6.1%
    Safari 2 – 1.6%
    Opera 9.2 – 0.7%
    Firefox 1.5 – 0.4%
    IE 5.0 – 0.4%
    Mozilla 1.8 – 0.3%
    Opera 9.0 – 0.2%
    Others – 1.3%

    So a market shares are:
    IE – 89.1% (88.9%)
    Firefox – 6.5% (6.8%)
    Safari – 1.6% (1.3%)
    Opera – 0.9% (1.8%)
    Mozilla – 0.3% (0.8%)

    The 2006 statistics are put between (). A similar research under 50.000 users on a tech related site shows FireFox at 19.6%, and under 40.000 users on a graphic based website we see the Safari share to be 11.3%.

    Research by

    • 9

      What real person uses IE 1 thru 6? Never seen anything but bots using those old IE in user agents.

      Most likely close to 50% visitors are bots which don’t belong in usable stats. Most visitors to my sites use IE7 (denied access to 6 and before)

  9. 10

    Another great post! Just what I have been looking for in order to increase my browser testing for sites!

    Thank you! Thank you!

  10. 11

    Great post. I’im using IE7, IE6 (MultipleIEs), Firefox 2 and 3, Opera 9.23 and 9,5, Safari for Windows at work and Opera, Firefox at home to test my websites.

  11. 12

    There really isn’t a reason to test multiple versions of browsers like Safari, Firefox, or Opera. I say this for two reasons; first, there isn’t the marketshare to do extensive testing for browsers that are in the vast minority; and second, IE6 is effectively the lowest common denominator as far as features and creative CSS/HTML rendering. Generally, when you bend over backwards to support IE6, you’re stripping out a lot of the things that even the good browsers would get tripped up on.

    An unintentional third reason is that users of nonstandard browsers tend to be more tech-savvy and tend to upgrade reasonably quickly when prompted to do so.

    I, for one, look forward to the day when Microsoft announces that IE6 is no longer supported. Unfortunately, they seem to have committed to IE6 until XP’s product lifecycle is over, so it’ll be around for a long time yet.

    • 13

      lots of businesses have there systems (files, data) built on old IE and changing it seems to cause them great pain. This might be the reason for support

  12. 14

    Stats from Poland:

    IE6 – 49,7%
    FF 2.x – 28.3%
    IE7 – 11.2%
    Opera 9.x – 6.0%
    FF 1.x – 2.8%

  13. 15

    The iCaprure test site gives this: Fatal error: Cannot unset string offsets in /usr/www/users/dvine/ on line 13

  14. 16

    I manage a site for a global management consulting firm that receives ~80,000 visits monthly. Here’s our browser breakdown, collected wth Google Analytics:

    1. Internet Explorer 76.96%
    2. Firefox 19.80%
    3. Safari 1.94%
    4. Opera 0.74%
    5. Mozilla 0.30%
    6. Netscape 0.14%
    7. Camino 0.05%
    8. Konqueror 0.02%

    IE Breakdown
    1. 6.0 75.07%
    2. 7.0 24.54%

    Firefox Breakdown
    1. 53.57%
    2. 32.57%

    To give an idea of where our traffic comes from, here’s our Top 10 visits by country for the past month:

    1. United States 31,101
    2. India 6,132
    3. Germany 5,125
    4. United Kingdom 5,074
    5. France 4,837
    6. Canada 3,124
    7. Italy 2,558
    8. Netherlands 1,711
    9. China 1,617
    10. Australia 1,590

  15. 17

    Generally, when you bend over backwards to support IE6, you’re stripping out a lot of the things that even the good browsers would get tripped up on.

    I agree. Plus, most of browsers are free download. People who use the Internet should be educated to make good choices that improve the Internet environment.

    Meanwhile, I am still having a hard time to convince my husband change from IE6 to Firefox, or even IE7. For many people are using the browser we hate, they don’t seem to lost anything. Why bother to download another file…

  16. 18

    Nick Husher (#11)

    IE6 is effectively the lowest common denominator as far as features and creative CSS/HTML rendering. Generally, when you bend over backwards to support IE6, you’re stripping out a lot of the things that even the good browsers would get tripped up on.

    This is not always true. Safari 2.x often causes me problems, when IE6 is behaving itself. And I believe its market share is big enough to be deemed important.

    I do hope that the release of Safari 3, will swamp out older versions like you suggest. It think it is much more likely to disappear quicker than IE6 will anyway.

  17. 19

    I know it’s a pipe-dream but, I wish big name designers and firms would force a widespread change in the world of the web. So long as we keep building to support the lowest common denominator or the most popular 5+ year-old browser – the longer we will have this web-handicap.

    We have the technology detect browsers and their version; I wish we would start pushing back on the world and start making the web a truly useful and pleasant place.

    Of course I know this won’t work – unless we can make a large enough movement to force a change. We as designers and developers hold the key to change, and it’s time we start to turn that key!

    By simply alerting visitors who use old/deprecated browsers (IE6 and lower) that they must upgrade or they will not be able to use the site, is a simple place to begin. I recall Bank of America had this alert if you used IE 5.5 or lower or Firefox 1.0 or lower.

    We need to set a higher standard and regain some of our lost sanity thanks to IE6!

  18. 20

    Big words, my friend. What if all companies got togheter and made one superb web-browser supporting web standards 100%? That would be awesome, but indeed, it’s just big thinking.

  19. 21

    Yeah, I wish the W3C would step up and somehow set some regulations that all browser developers must get approved before going live!

  20. 22

    I was really interested to see the sitevista information. I echo the sentiment that W3C should step up (or someone). But, that is just a dream.

  21. 23

    With regards to the multiple IE instances, to my understanding, they all share the same instance of the JavaScript interpreter.

    As such, if you’re running IE 7 as your native browser, they’ll all use the IE 7 JavaScript interpreter. This can cause problems when testing for script compatibility.

  22. 24

    I am using BrowserCam to test my projects. I think it’s the best detailed and stable system for this operation.

  23. 25

    I also use BrowserCam and I think they offer great services for less money.

  24. 26

    I’m all for companies creating different styles of browsers, but there should be a 100% standard across the board… simple things such as why should tags have different margins on Firefox and IE for example!? It’s just a waste of developers’ time.

  25. 27

    perfect! thanks!

  26. 28

    Sorry for spamming, but I have also created a small test page involving mostly css selectors and pseudo selectors – it is not as comprehensive as some of those that the article links to, but it gives a quick and broad overview. My name should link to it ;)

  27. 29

    Charles Upsdell publishes Browser News has a good round up of stats and testing resources from a variety of sources. It is updated weekly.

  28. 30

    Why websites should be compatible with 2 or 3 generations (versions) old bowsers? How many percents of the users use Safari 1.x, IE 5.x, Opera 5.x or older versions? And are these users worth making your site compatible?

  29. 31

    Since we are developing websites on Macs, we have no more problem with cross-plat-form/Multibrowser-Checks!

    Mac has Firefox, Opera, IEMac and Safari
    Win XP via Parallels has Firefox, IE 3-7 with multiple IEs, Opera, Netscape
    Win Vista via Parallels has it’s IE 7
    and Linux could be installed if needed!

    You can run all of these Browsers at the same time in the coherency-mode without switching a windows, or rebooting at all!

  30. 32

    Nice article, maybe too short, i’d liked to have more info but is useful enough.
    At least now i learned how to install IE6 and IE7 on the same pc.


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