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Test Your Website for Multibrowser Compatibility

Aug 17, 2007
In the beginning, there was the mighty Netscape Web Browser. Remember that one? Ten years ago, the now ubiquitous Internet Explorer was fighting to take down the market-leading Netscape Browser. Well, we know who won that battle. While Microsoft's Internet Explorer is undeniably the favorite of web surfers everywhere on the planet, there are other often-used browsers that you should be aware of.

While you don't need to spend months adjusting the design of your website to fit all of the different browsers, you should test your layout on the most commonly used web browsers of your target audience. Usage statistics from w3schools.com for March of 2007 were as follows: MS Internet Explorer (58.7%), Google's Firefox (31.8%), the Mozilla Suite, Opera, and Safari (4.6%). Netscape and other lesser used browsers make up the remaining 4.9%.

What should you take away from these statistics? Obviously you want to design your website primarily for Internet Explorer (IE) and Google's Firefox which is rapidly growing in popularity. Since most of your visitors will likely be using one of these popular browsers, you want to ensure that your html tags, table types, and programming scripts are all supported by these browsers. Test table alignment, background colors, layer position and any seldom-used html tags. Remember to test at more than one screen resolution and more than one color depth.

If your site is designed for the general public, then you don't need to pay too much attention to design testing on the other browsers previously mentioned. However, if you have a tech-oriented site that targets early adopters or tech-savy individuals, you should reconsider. There is a large group of internet users with a hatred for all things Microsoft. They use open-source operating systems (Linux or Unix) which often include Mozilla or Opera web browsers.

In this case, many of your visitors may be using these less common browsers. You would need to test your site on these types of web browsers. If your site targets users in the graphics or print industry you may also need to test for different browsers. Many people studying or working in these industries use Apple computers which come with the Safari web browser installed.

Testing your website on as many different browsers, screen resolutions, operating systems, and internet speeds will help you to avoid any design problems you may encounter later. When I started designing one of my earliest sites about ten years ago, I neglected to test my site on different browsers or different resolutions. Six months into the design process, I discovered that the tables on every page were out of alignment when viewed with the Netscape browser. It took more than two months to correct that and some other small design flaws. I learned to plan and test more comprehensively after this blunder.

My recommendation for any new web designer is to download and install Firefox, Netscape, and one of the Mozilla browsers onto your testing computer. They should not conflict with one another, and they will allow you to discover any bugs early on, before one of your site visitors has to tell you. I currently surf with IE, Firefox, and Netscape. Doing this allows me to take the perspective of different visitors to my websites. Testing your website thoroughly during the design process will save you from wasted time and lost visitors later on.
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