Web site development has come a long way since the concept of the World Wide Web emerged in 1992. The World Wide Web incorporated hyperlinks and images into web site design and paved the way for the rich, multimedia environment that we enjoy today.
Most modern browsers have auto-updating features that alerts users when an new version of a browser is available. This feature will even perform the update for you. For the most part, these browser updates work very well and only rarely result in problems. There are, however, a number of users who either turn off the update feature or are paranoid that the update will create problems or download viruses, so their browsers never get updated. This issue is much more apparent with Internet Explorer users, presumably because Microsoft has a long history of screwing up PCs with some of their updates.
We have compiled a list of browsers that should be part of every browser compatibility testing.
FireFox is the favorite browser for tech-savvy users. This is strongly reflected in the W3 Schools’ browser statistics. FireFox has not exhibited a wide range of rendering changes from one version to the next, so testing with the current version will usually work well. You can find it at the FireFox download page.
Internet Explorer continues to be the problem child of browsers. This is in part due to a large range of problems with CSS compatibility, but also do to the reluctance of users to upgrade their browsers. At the time of this writing, W3 Schools reports that the now ancient IE6 is still in use by 14.4% of the Internet users in the W3 Schools survey. This is important because IE6 is clearly the most defective browser in current use, and is used by almost 15% of web users. Most of the CSS rendering problems that are commonly found with IE6 were corrected in IE7, but nonetheless, 14.4% of users is a number that cannot be ignored if you use CSS web designs. We strongly recommend that you keep an old PC or laptop around that uses IE6 and use use it to test your sites. You should also test sites using either IE7 or IE8.
Safari is not just for the Macintosh. Apple has developed a version for use on PCs. Safari pretty much works similar to FireFox, but some differences do occasionally pop up. You can download Safari for either the Mac or PC at the Apple Safari download page.
Google’s Chrome browser is the new kid on the block. It renders web pages very similar to FireFox, but is very fast due to its stripped down nature. Chrome is gaining in popularity and should be part of your testing program. Currently, Chrome only has about a 6.5% market share, but any market share over 5% should not be ignored. You can find Chrome at the Google Chrome download page.
Many web designers who use a Macintosh for web site development are surprised to find out that there are differences between the PC versions of browsers and the Mac versions. There are other differences, such as slight changes in colors. If you use a Mac for designing web sites, you do need to test sites on a PC, as well. For your Mac testing it is important to test using Safari and FireFox. For PC testing, use the browsers we listed above.