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Introducing Expression Web SuperPreview – Cross-browser testing at your fingertips

Microsoft Expression Web SuperPreview BetaAbout a year ago I got an email from my friend Anna Ullrich from the Microsoft Expression team. She wanted to know if I’d be interested in providing some feedback on a new, exciting and super secret application they were developing for the next release of Expression Web. Being obsessively curious I couldn’t turn that offer down and a few weeks later Anna and Boris Feldman drove up from Redmond to meet me at the Microsoft office in downtown Vancouver.

What they presented to me – after the signing of numerous Non-Disclosure Agreements – was a pile of sketches of a future browser preview application with the working title “SuperPreview”. The premise was simple: During the authoring of a website the developer or designer can test the current output and get feedback in the form of warnings, graphic overlays and onion skinning showing how the page will appear and change depending on what browser is being used.

Now browser previews is not a new idea by any means – there are tons of free and paid online services that do the job and most if not all web design applications offer multi-browser previews – but all the existing services operate on a browser-by-browser basis. What was novel about SuperPreview was the idea of viewing all the browser outputs simultaneously and on top of each other so you can really see what the difference is.

As a designer/developer cross browser testing is a daily routine that often leads to my computer getting some multi-lingual verbal abuse. Because even with perfect, standards based and properly validating code there is no guarantee the site you design will look the same across all browsers and all platforms. What makes cross-browser testing truly tedious is that for every page you have to open multiple browsers and look a them individually. And if you want to find minute positional shifts or other differences you often have to flip back and forth between browsers or use screen grabs or worse (I sometimes use whiteboard marker on my screen!). Any application that simplifies this process would be a huge help.

So for two hours Anna and Boris listened to my rambling feedback and lofty suggestions and at the end we parted ways, they with a pile of notes, me with a deep and profound desire to build a time machine so I wouldn’t have to wait for the damn thing to be developed.

And today, finally, the wait is over. In conjunction with the MIX09 conference in Las Vegas Microsoft Expression Web SuperPreview is now available for download in public beta.