Browser Compatibility Testing: BrowserCam Gets Better - Video Review
Browser compatibility testing is a web development practice that allows a web site owner to verify how her web site or blog, appears on computers utilizing browsers, operating systems and screen resolutions that are different from the one used in originally designing / developing a web site.
These visual differences is a critical element to consider when wanting to increase traffic, provide greater accessibility and allowing commercial publishers to extract the best from their online communication efforts.
BrowserCam puts a full range of browsers and operating systems at your disposal
With Linux, Mac OSX and Windows machines all accessing your website through a range of operating system versions, and even more web browsers, how are you going to know that your web site is going to look the same across all these other computer setups?
There are now a vast range of browsers on the market, from Internet Explorer and Firefox to Camino and Opera, to touch on just a few. If you then take into account the fact that more and more people are switching from Windows computers and over to Mac OSX and Linux operating systems, things become even more complicated.
But how can you hope to know what your website looks like on a Mac running an older version of the Mac OSX while using Opera?
Sure you could call your friend up and ask them to take a look, but there are only going to be so many friends with so many different machines, operating systems and browsers at their disposal.
One common way that web development agencies around the world have adopted is the one of having a range of machines all running different operating systems and browsers, and making use of them every time you need to check your website. This is far from being easy, inexpensive and speedy, and when you bring into the calculation the several versions available of all major operating system, the various versions of the major web browsers, and the infinite number of combinations that these two variables can generate when coupled with the myriad monitor sizes and screen resolutions that your readers may have, you soon realize that this amounts to a big headache that is not going to be that easy to solve.
So, while most (webmasters) simply resort to check IE and FF at their default resolution, on their standard operating system, this is a far cry from being able to serve a truly accessible web site that looks and acts the same no matter what computer, browser or monitor size your readers happens to use.
I don't need to add that given the increasing good interface design and usability of many commercial sites, if you have any stake in being commercially successful online, this is something to which you must give very serious attention.
Luckily, there are several browser compatibility testing services and tools out there, which can ease your pain within a few clicks.
Among them, we have chosen to go back to the one that did impress me the most when it was the first and only solution against this web riddle.
First reviewed in 2004, Browsercam, is a web-based solution exclusively devoted to provide webmasters with an semi-automated system to check your web site appearance across all the operating systems, browser and screen resolutions available out there.
Now, Browsercam has added some new and truly powerful features to its already jam-packed line-up.
In this video review I guide you through the ins and outs of this must-have cross-browser compatibility testing tool:
The video, which has five separate parts, covers the following aspects of the BrowserCam experience:
- Selecting your capture parameters - A guide to the full range of compatibility settings available, and how easy it is to select from among them
- Checking out the results - The great variety of ways in which you can filter and sequence the resulting screen captures, and the process of selecting and downloading your images
- The addition of the DeviceCam tool - This new feature allows you to see how your website will look to those using PDAs
- Remote compatibility testing - This feature of the service allows you to make use of a range of computers, operating systems and browsers via a remote connection
- The addition of the new BC Virtual tool - This new addition to BrowserCam allows you to create a range of virtual machines configured to run the operating systems of your choice
BrowserCam's vast set of testing parameters
BrowserCam effectively puts a huge range of browser and operating system versions at your disposal, and gives you the opportunity to select from a vast range of parameters. Once you have decided which of these parameters you are interested in, it then systematically goes about taking screen-shots of your website.
With the ability to choose from Linux, Windows and Mac operating systems, and different versions of the various browsers available it then provides clear screen grabs of exactly how your website is going to look under the parameters you have set.
Furthermore, you can decide if you want to see the site with the popular (but not entirely ubiquitous) Flash plug-in activated or deactivated, and can select from a range of screen resolution sizes to get an idea of how your website pans out on different sized screens and settings. This truly comprehensive range can either be dipped into, to produce a limited number of images, or else used to test every single permutation available to you.
What's great is that once you've made your selection, and taken your captures you can filter and sort the resulting images that the service has created in a number of useful ways.
Checking your results
Once your screen-shots have been captured it is very easy to browse through them, even if you have taken a huge amount of images to truly cover yourself in terms of browser compatibility.
BrowserCam's interface makes it very easy to sort images by operating system, browser and a range of other parameters that make it quick and easy to locate the exact images that you're looking for at a given point in time. Any of the thumbnails provided can be clicked to give you an instantaneous full-sized version of the screen-grab.
Then, it is simply a matter of ticking the appropriate check boxes for those images that you would like to make a copy of, and clicking on download. Straight away you are given a zipped folder full of the images, to download directly to your desktop. Obviously, this then allows you to email them directly across to the people you are working with, if you haven't granted them access to your BrowserCam account.
DeviceCam and the handheld market
One nice new addition to the service is the ability to perform a browser compatibility check not only for home computer based systems, but also for the increasingly popular Windows Mobile and Blackberry PDA devices.
As an increasing amount of people are using these hand-held devices to access the web, it's a good idea to see how you are faring when your site is squashed onto a 320x240 or smaller screen. While obviously this great new feature to the BrowserCam service will be of most interest to those developing websites specifically for these devices, it is nevertheless a useful addition to your compatibility toolkit.
Remote testing functionality
Screen-shots are a great way of checking out how your website is going to look on other operating systems and browsers, but unfortunately they cannot tell you how it is going to perform.
With BrowserCam, this doesn't pose a problem, however.
In addition to being able to take accurate screen grabs, the service allows you to remotely access a range of computers, running a range of operating systems via VNC. In short, this means that you can take control of the exact computer that you need to test your website on, and use it from your own location.
This is a great way to test a particular system in hands on way, and it is possible to capture and save the results as you do so. Using this approach is a great compliment to the screen captures you can take with BrowserCam, and while the process is time consuming, it does allow you to look into the kind of issues a screen grab just won't show you.
BrowserCam makes this incredibly easy, and gives you the option of either using your own VNC client to access their remote computers, or else using their own bundled Java VNC client, which will allow you to get stuck in straight from your browser window.
BC-Virtual - virtual machines at your disposal
As if all of that wasn't enough the BrowserCam people have just added yet another supercool feature called BC-Virtual, which is currently in beta testing.
Put simply, BC-Virtual allows you to make use of dedicated server space to run private virtual machines, to which you are granted full administrator access. This effectively means that you can have at your disposal the ability to create machines with the OS, browsers and resolution of your choice, and tweak all of the finer points you don't have access to as a guest user of the previously mentioned remote machines.
This adds a whole new level of control, and the ability to truly customize a machine to your exact specifications. As it is stored within your allotted server space, you can obviously do as much browser compatibility testing as you need to, without having to worry about losing your configurations and data.
Every time that it seems that BrowserCam have reached a plateau, they pull something like this out of a hat and push the envelope a little further. With the addition of this new feature, there are now a number of options available for those looking to extensively test browser compatibility.
Pricing and plans
I am genuinely impressed by the flexibility of the pricing infrastructure of BrowserCam's service, which seems to have an option to suit every level of user. The range goes from casual users that might want to make use of the service on a once-only basis, right up to unrestricted, annual premium access.
The price range goes from a measly $19.95, which will buy you 24-hours of unlimited access to the service, right up to $999.95 for unlimited, annual, premium access. Between these prices there is truly flexible range that allows for different access plans and pricing structures that can be mixed and matched to suit your needs.
A list of the available plans is available on the BrowserCam website, and involves varying degrees of remote access, and additional features at the premium end of the scale.
Having extensively tested BrowserCam for this review, I can say with positive confidence that BrowserCam will make the task of testing your website on multiple operating systems and browsers a truly effective one.
While most blogging platforms have pre-designed templates already designed to work across the vast range of browsers and operating systems out there, anyone who has any kind of customized design or web site template needs to make very sure how her site is going to be seen on the browsers, monitor sizes and screen resolutions she can't see directly on her development machines.
Browsercam ensures your easy access to Mac, Linux and Windows previews, no matter whether you want to see these through the eyes of Opera, Firefox, Internet Explorer or several other browsers and versions of the same.
Webmasters and website designers that do not make use of such a straightforward, easy to use shortcut to checking a website's compatibility could end up spending a lot more time (and money) finding alternative approaches to the problem. Nonetheless the apparent significant cost for buying yourself a yearly subscription (about $1000/year for the top level service) I can state with confidence that not only this is money well spent, but that if you take the time to evaluate how much time and effort it would have cost you or your webmaster to find out what BrowserCam does in a click of your mouse, you would rapidly realize that this is a tool that saves you a great deal of money and time too.
The BrowserCam service is also available on a monthly basis, and at different pricing levels, including a full one-day free try-out option.
If you are interested in learning more about BrowserCam, the following links might be useful:
- BrowserCam's homepage has a lot more information about the service
- A full list of browsers and remote access machines available via the service
- BrowserCam's comprehensive forums
- Video demos of the service in action
- Register for a free trial of the service
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