Browser Sandbox, easy cross-browser testing
While doing a bit of reading on HTML 5 I wanted to check out some examples, which didn't ran correctly in the browser I was in. As Google Chrome is good in living up to HTML 5 standards, I thought I'd update, knowing it would replace my currently installed version. Great for the everage person surfing around, less great when you're developing a website and want to know how it looks in the previous version.
Most browsers don't allow you to have multiple versions installed, nor do browser vendors make it easy to find an older version of their software in the first place (use Old Apps when you're looking for that). So when you need to develop a site you're kind of sour off. You could use virtualization software, you could install different versions of a browser under a different user account on your pc, use other types of emulators as IETester, etc. For the simple task of just wanting to know how a site looks in different browsers or browser versions, it's just annoying that it's being made into such a hassle.
So I did another round looking for an easy solution, and this time I actually found something that makes life easier. I bumped into Spoon Browser Sandbox. Browser Sandbox is software that allows you to test your site in the most popular browsers without the need to install the browser software on your local computer. But its no emulation. Using Browser Sandbox your running the actual browser software, which is provided as a service through a cloud approach. Browser Sandbox currently supports the following browsers and versions:
- Microsoft Internet Explorer (versions: 9 Beta / 9 / 8 / 7 / 6 )
- Mozilla Firefox (versions: 4 Beta / 3.6 / 3.5 / 3 / 2 )
- Google Chrome (versions: 6 Beta / 5 / 4 )
- Apple Safari (versions: 5 / 4 / 3 )
- Opera (versions: 10 / 9 )
According to the as of this post latest W3C browser statistics this gives you a whopping 99.3 percent reach.
The only installation needed to use Browser Sandbox is the Browser Sandbox plugin, a less than 4Kb download. When installed (just a matter of doubleclicking and no configuration whatsoever) you can go to http://www.spoon.net/Browsers/ and click the browser you want to run.
Unlike hardware virtualization solutions such as VMware and Virtual PC, which emulate the underlying hardware and therefore require an entire copy of the host operating system, Spoon application virtualization technology emulates operating system features required for execution. For more details on how their virtualization works check this page http://www.spoon.net/Developers/Technology.aspx. While sticking to the subject of testing a site in several browsers, the big advantage of using Browser Sandbox over hardware virtualization solutions, is that you dont need to leave your work environment. Just start the browsers from their site and check if all is ok.
Apart from hardware virtualizations there are other intiatives that try to tackle the problem of cross-browser testing. There is Adobe BrowserLab, which is also provided as a service. Apart from the fact that the available browser set is smaller, the biggest disadvantage is that BrowserLab works by showing you a screenshot of how a site looks in a specific browser. So its an image, it's not your site running in that browser. So if things don't look good, you have no way of knowing what is causing the problem.
Microsoft came up with SuperPreview. Which is not so super as they try to suggest. Its is packed with Expression Web 4. You can buy it for about $ 149. You'll need some other Microsoft technologies installed (.NET 4, Silverlight 4, DirectX 9) and about 1GB RAM and 2GB harddisc space to run it. Remember that one of the problems is that most browsers dont allow you to simultaneously install multiple versions. Here's a quote from the SuperPreview highlight page: "SuperPreview works directly with your installed Windows browsers"... Apart from that, the available browsers to test are Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Macintosh Safari as an online service beta. So there's quite a lot that you'd need, and that's not there.
So if you're looking for a simple and effective solution for cross-browser testing go check out Browser Sandbox. Easy setup, covers all popular browsers and versions, and shows you your site actually running in the browser. Only Mac users might not be able to benefit as the virtualization engine is only available for Windows. But you might check with Spoon whether this is something that's being worked on.