A couple of days ago we brought you a sneak peak at Meermeer, an upcoming application from Adobe that will make testing web sites cross browser a lot easier for developers. Meermeer will allow developers to send their code directly from Dreamweaver to a set of virtual machines running different operating systems and browsers, and receive back screenshots of their sites rendered on those various configurations almost instantly. That’s infinitely better than the current system that most developers employ, which is usually a combination of using multiple test bed systems, local virtualization software, and relying on friends and slow batch processing services like Browsershots.org.
Meermeer won’t be available for consumers until sometime early next year, but thankfully for developers there are a couple of services that are available now and offer similarly useful testing functionality.
Litmus is a cross browser and OS testing tool that, like Meermeer, takes screenshots of web sites and returns results almost instantly. Unlike Meermeer, Litmus also tests HTML email, with an impressive list of 23 supported web browsers and 16 email clients. Litmus puts an emphasis on continuous testing and organization and allows you to keep track of all your tests, marking when a page has passed or failed in a browser so you can stay on top of what needs work on your web site.
The Litmus application can also publish public reports about the web browser or email client compatibility of your products that you can show to clients. Litmus screenshots are delivered in both windows and full screen format (so you can see what visitors will see above the fold on page load and debug your entire page).
Where Litmus lags behind Meermeer is the lack of the onion skin view (which helpfully overlays two browser screenshots), and the inability to render unpublished code to create screenshots. You can, however, point Litmus to password protected, private production servers.
The free version of Litmus supports IE 7 and Firefox 2 for web sites, and Outlook 2003 and Gmail for emails. Paid plans unlock more browsers and email clients and allow for more users and lifts a monthly cap on the number of tests you can perform.
That’s where a service like CrossBrowserTesting.com is helpful. The site offers access to a number of different virtualized machines across a range of operating systems, browsers, and with various plugins installed. Using a program called VNC, users are able to load up those virtual systems in browser via a Java applet and then test out their web pages using different browser and operating system configurations.
While testing, users can instantly snap a screenshot of what they’re seeing so that they can remember later what problems might have existed under specific browser configs.
CrossBrowserTesting.com charges for use of their system by the minute at a price of about $0.20 per minute, with volume discounts available. The site offers free five minute testing sessions, but paid customers are prioritized, so free sessions are only available when there are spare cycles on the system.