Is Testing on a Mac Necessary?

I’ve always been a firm believer in creating websites that are standards complaint (as much as possible) so that they look and function the same way across various operating systems and browsers. I came from a Windows environment and have never owned a Mac. I’ve used them at work for testing and troubleshooting, but I personally have never had the extra funds to splurge and buy one for myself. So as a developer/designer, I’ve been faced with the dilemma of finding a way to test designs and code on a Mac without having full-time access to one.

Historically my need to test on a Mac has been fulfilled by either a) using the Mac at work for my own (evil) purposes or b) using an online service like browserlab.adobe.com, browsrcamp.com, browsercam.com, or browsershots.org which take a URL, feeds it to a real live Mac, and return a screen shot of the page. These services are great in a pinch but they can be time consuming, and by having to feed them one URL at a time, limit the quantity of pages you can easily check. Not to mention the fact that the last time I checked, browsershots didn’t have any Mac browsers available to pick from. There are also some free apps like SuperPreview that do the same thing, as well as come commercials apps.

The Current State of Mac Browsers

From the data I could scrounge up, it looks like Mac users are currently using one of two web browsers more than any other; Safari and Firefox. That’s good news since Safari is using the WebKit rendering engine and Firefox uses Gecko. The core of both of these engines is the same across operating systems, so the current version of Safari on a Mac should render the same as it does on Windows (with the form controls being unique to each OS). Provided this holds true, a site viewed in Safari or Firefox on Windows should render the same as it does on a Mac. This begs the question, since the leading web browsers on a Mac use the same code rendering engines as they do on a PC, is there a reason to use a Mac for testing?

So What Do You Think?

Does the need to test web development on a Mac justify buying one, or is using the equivalent browser on a PC sufficient? Are the online screenshot services enough? I’m having a hard time justifying laying out a minimum of $600 (a new Mac mini) just for testing. What do you do when it comes to testing on a Mac when you don’t have one?

2 thoughts on “Is Testing on a Mac Necessary?”

  1. I have both Macs and PCs at home so I can do as complete testing as possible. I sometimes come across differences that need to be addressed; slight differences in the engines, causing a quirk here or a bug there.

    I also do complete testing in the name of due diligence, so I will know all the possible issues before showing things to a client. Just a like lawyer, I try to know the answers before the questions get asked.

    Also, many clients don’t understand the differences between (1) print vs. online design, (2) browsers, (3) platforms. They question the skills of the designer and/or web developer when they see things they don’t understand, for example, leading / kerning issues.

    I once was designing an HTML email and a client asked why a particular word was breaking onto a new line when the PSD had that word on the previous line. I tried to explain about all the issues with type and with type across browsers and platforms. At first they “forced” me fix they problem. I told them, if they insisted on their solution, it would another problem somewhere else. Of course their answer was, “just make it happen.” I implemented their solution and just as I predicted, they then came back complaining about this “other problem” that suddenly cropped up. Of course, I had told them about it already.

    They still didn’t understand about type across platforms and browsers, so I created a visual case study, taking screen grabs from many combinations of email client (local apps as well as webmail clients) and platforms to show them the differences. As soon as they saw my case study, they shut up. (no apology, though, for my being correct). But at least they finally understood what I was talking about.

    My point is that because I had a full arsenal of tools to really show them what was going on (and understand the issues better myself). I was able to lead the conversation, rather than be dictated to some marketing girl, who still uses IE6, and has no idea how web development works.

  2. Great points verbatim. I agree with you about knowing the answers before the questions get asked. My problem is that sometimes I’ll get clients that either don’t care, or don’t know about the subtle differences between how a site looks on a Mac versus a PC. Therefore is it up to me to educate them and demonstrate the issues, or do I let it slide? I’m a bit anal when it comes to design and development so I do my best (I also don’t have access to a Mac) to make sure a site looks the same across systems/browsers, even if the client doesn’t know what problems can arise.
    The problem here seems to be twofold: a) does the client understand the differences between operating systems and browsers and b) if you don’t have access to say a Mac, how do you handle testing and development to acount for these differences? I’ve used the online testers mostly and found them to be reasonably helpful. I have yet to encounter an issue where I discovered a problem with a site on a Mac where I actually had to sit in front of one to fix it. That said, if I had the extra money I would definitely buy one for testing and my own entertainment ;)

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