I'm still blogging (here and on an internal corporate blog), but the focus may change a little as I discuss more of the software side of things. Starting today!
It used to be that if you wanted to test your website with, say, Internet Explorer 8 on Windows 7, you'd have to have a Windows 7 PC with Internet Explorer 8 on it. Regression testing across many machine/browser variations could get very expensive very fast.
Today there are better ways to do this.
You could set up a lab with various virtual machines running the different versions of the operating systems and browsers. But, you'd still have to manage the underlying hardware, the virtual machines' base operating systems, the various versions of the browsers you want to test and be able to spin up a pristine version of the browser for each test. You'd also have to keep the machines patched and operating. If you wanted to do automated testing, you'd have to set up and manage your testing tools environment as well. Still rather resource intensive – just less hardware.
The easiest option, by far, is to let someone else handle everything from the browser down to the operating system, hardware and network connection - a Platform as a Service. There are a number of cloud based services that do this. I looked at a few of them last night. Here are some highlights.
I looked at three services: CrossBrowserTesting, SauceLabs and BrowserStack.
CrossBrowserTesting supports several versions of Windows, OSX, Ubuntu and mobile platforms with all the major browsers (IE, FireFox, Chrome, Opera, etc.) It costs $30/user/month and looks like a capable product. They offer a 7 day free trial, but it only provides Windows and Mac operating systems (no Linux) to test with. It took about 20 seconds to start up and load a test page. You can run automated tests (using Selenium) or manually test.
SauceLabs supports a similar stable of platforms, but they only charge $12/user/month. It took about 25 seconds to start up and load a test page. They also offer Selenium automated testing and manual testing. They offer a free trial as well but with more combinations of platform/browser than CrossBrowserTesting.
BrowserStack also supports a number of different platforms (no Linux, though) and also automated testing with Selenium. It's $30/user/month as well. They offer a free trial, but only with the most recent versions of the browsers. (I didn't trial this one: they have a browser add-in that I would want to analyze more thoroughly before installing it.)
I like SauceLabs the best: lowest cost, it supports all the platforms I'm interested in and has an easy-to-use interface.
These are all capable tools – check them out. They're much less work than maintaining a room full of hardware… And they're all pretty cheap.