Which browser do you use?
Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple’s Safari browser and Internet Explorer are all popular, as are a few less well-known examples such as Opera. However, as good as they all are (in their individual ways) these browsers all share a single failing – none of them displays a web page absolutely perfectly.
Unfortunately, due to the requirements of the software developers, most web browsers veer from the official HTML specifications, resulting in noticeable differences from browser to browser.
For most of us, this doesn’t really matter, although there are several reasons why you might wish to see how a particular web page looks when viewed through a different browser.
Why You Might Wish to Preview a Web Page
The most obvious is for website design purposes. With the basics of HTML and CSS now taught in schools, cross-browser and cross-platform compatibility is something that remains important, despite efforts by the developers of the main browsers to adhere to the guidelines specified by the W3C (World Wide Web Commission, of which Sir Tim Berners-Lee is a key member ).
Other reasons exist, however. For instance, you might wish to check how a web page that you visit often on your computer might look on your smartphone. You might also be considering a change of desktop browser or operating system but want to see how the software resolves a particular website, for example a site hosting browser-based games.
While it is easy enough to check the requirements of the browser you have in mind, checking the way in which a particular web page is displayed in many different browsers all at the same time is pretty cool.
Quick and easy to use, BrowserShots enables you to enter a URL and select from a range of browsers, from Chrome 17 on Linux to SeaMonkey 1.1 on BSD, via pretty much any Windows browser you can think of on the way. Results can take a while to generate, sadly, as they are based on snapshots captured by a remote server hosting virtual versions of all of the operating systems and browsers involved.
However you won’t find a wider selection of browsers and operating systems to test a web page with for free.
Sadly, BrowserShots doesn’t have any Mac OS versions or browsers to offer, but there is plenty of choice between Linux, Windows and BSD browsers.
You can start using this service now – head to browsershots.org.
Adobe Browser Lab
With fewer OS and browser options is Adobe Browser Lab, but don’t let the shortage of browsers put you off. This great tool allows you to view two different browsers side-by-side and even enables you to quickly switch from one browser to another.
In this respect, Adobe Browser Lab is the performance option – it is fast and efficient, and best of all completely free. I’m particularly impressed by the “onion skin” view, possibly the fastest way to identify differences in layout by overlaying one browser page render on top of another.
Part of their group of free tools, Adobe Browser Lab can be used by visiting and signing up at browserlab.adobe.com
Rather like having a huge lab full of different computers running different operating system versions upon which all of the popular browsers and their various versions are installed, CrossBrowserTesting is an extremely powerful option.
You can literally check how a website appears in pretty much any combination of OS and browser that you can imagine, enabling you to track down any differences in seconds.
Offering a great combination of options, crossbrowsertesting.com isn’t free to use but offers a free trial on all price plans.
Rather than rely on a remote computer to run your cross browser testing, why not try Spoon, where you can launch any browser you care within a virtual environment that is accessed via your browser window?
This useful service is accessed in conjunction with a desktop browser plugin, allowing the virtual browser application to launch on your desktop, where it remains fully accessible and usable.
Note that a signup is required to use this service, and that free use is restricted to 2 minutes per day.
Browsers are just a few of the desktop apps that are available from Spoon.Net – head to spoon.net/browsers to find out more.
Other Tools You Can Try
In addition to these excellent services, there are other methods you might consider to provide a reliable alternative look at a web page.
The most obvious is installing multiple browsers; you might have Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari installed on your computer along with Internet Explorer.
If you use a Mac or Linux computer and cannot install Internet Explorer, however, this could prove a particular stumbling block. Given that this browser is responsible for more compatibility issues than any of the others (historically speaking – the current versions are much more strict in their interpretation of HTML specifications) it should come as no surprise that there is a website that will display web pages in every version of IE. Head to netrenderer.com to try it.
Finally, don’t overlook the advantage of virtual machines. On a well-configured system you can run Mac OS X, Linux and Windows in VMs, all of which can be enhanced by multiple browsers, potentially allowing you a simultaneous look at how a particular web page might look.
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