A short history of browser testing

Business / 01 March

Things often move from simplicity to complexity.

It started for us in 1999 with those heavy, cream, cathode ray tube monitors. We used Netscape and Internet Explorer to surf the net – exciting times!  We developed for a maximum width of 640px. Soon after we were able to increase the website width to 800px.  We used framesets to keep the navigation on top and give the user a better experience.

Google’s brilliant evolution of the web

Internet Explorer had killed off Netscape and we were, for a while stuck with it. Around 2005 we welcomed Mozilla Firefox – a much faster browser at the time (Apple did release Safari in 2003, it was hovering around 1% of users at this stage and was easy to build for). By now we were skipping away from tables to divs for page scaffolding. We now had the ability to design for a max width of 940px.

Our site testing was still pretty manageable; For Windows it was IE and Firefox and Mac it was Safari and Firefox.  We were leaving IE for Mac behind us, thankfully, it was possibly the worst browser to test on in history.

Google then came out with Chrome, this is a pretty good browser that uses Safari’s webkit HTML rendering engine. Internet Explorer 6 (shiver) was still very popular; we lost a lot of time testing on IE6 emulators only to find the bug wasn’t replicated on real instances of the browser. An important lesson was learned – avoid emulators and simulators, avoid!

Skip to today, 2013 – if you want static widths, you can design your website to a max-width of 1200px. At this size you are testing Safari/Chrome and Firefox on Mac and Safari/Chrome, Firefox, current and older versions of IE on PC.  Moving on from that,  we have media queries – these help us control the information as it is displayed on the blinding array of devices we now have – smart TV’s, games consoles, netbooks, tablets, iPad mini, iOS (iPhone), Android, Windows etc.  Many of these devices have 2 viewports; landscape and portrait.

The bottom line is that if you study your website’s analytics, the visitor percentages are getting divided up into all these devices. Behind these devices are the users – your customers. You have got to give them the optimum experience.

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