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Automated Website Testing: iOPUS IIM and Other Low Cost Alternatives


by Glen Emerson Morris


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Note: This is part two of a series on Website automated testing. Our first column covered the high price approaches, like Rational, Silk, WinRunner, and the somewhat cheaper option of offshore testing. This column looks at the low cost approaches to automated testing.

For companies without the budget for Rational, Silk or WinRunner, or offshore testing, there are still some options for Website testing. These options are more on the do it yourself level, but they can be made to work, and possibly save you thousands of dollars in lost sales on your Website.

Anyone with Website testing to do and no budget should consider a product from iOPUS (www.iopus.com) called iOPUS Internet Macros, or IIM. IIM is an excellent attempt to offer much of the power of traditional automated software at a fraction of the cost. It's actually affordable. The full blown version, called the IIM Scripting Edition, goes for just $349.

Essentially IIM is a macro program on steroids. It has significant limitations, such as it can only work on Windows machines, and only with IE 5.5 or later browsers, but IIM also has significant strengths. Like all professional Website testing automation products, IIM simulates the actions of someone using a Website's interface by recording and executing sets of actions known as scripts. Any script can be altered, or reprogrammed, as needed for testing purposes. The scripts IIM uses are very simple, and require no previous programming experience to create or modify, but they can be made to do many things, and very quickly.

Another professional feature of IIM is that unlike simple macro programs, IIM actually detects what part of the Web page you're using, and doesn't have to rely on a strict X Y coordinate system to record your activities. With IIM there are four ways to record clicking on objects (like a text entry box), and at least one way usually works. This means that if you move the position of a text entry field on a Web page, the script will find it anyway.

Another key feature of IIM is that it can merge data in lists with the scripts. For instance, to buy one of each product on a website you'd create a text file with each of the products on a separate line. Then you'd record the sequence of keyboard and mouse clicks required to buy a product, edit the script to insert the name of the variable and the location of text file of products you created. Then, with one mouse click you could order every product on the list. According to our tests, IIM can fill in a complex form in a second or less.

One professional feature missing from IIM is conditional branching, which is simply the ability of a computer program to try something else when something doesn't work, or for it to base actions on previous results. If IIM tries to buy gray slacks and the slacks are only in available in black, it will stop dead in its tracks. With conditional branching, a program could be told that if the color it asks for is not available, it should try to buy another color. The lack of conditional branching means running IIM scripts requires constant attention.

Fortunately, IIM has been programmed to work with several programs that do offer conditional branching, like Visual Basic, a programming language built into most Windows PCs. Visual Basic is, as the name implies, a programming language so basic it can be understood by almost any engineer or power user. Anyone familiar with VB could program all of the code required to make IIM automate nearly all of the testing. An entire series of tests could be run, and the results of each recorded, at the click of a mouse.

There are three versions of iOPUS Internet Macros, priced from $29.95 to $329. The low cost version is a power net surfer application and not really useful for testing. The $149 version is fine for testing, and only lacks a few of the features of the deluxe version. The top of the line IIM Scripting Edition offers the ability to interface with Visual Basic and other programming languages. It also offers the software to run IIM scripts on any other Windows computer. So, if you want to test your company's Website on Windows 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP, NT 4.0 and 5.0 systems, you don't have to buy 7 copies of IIM. You just load the free script player on each machine, along with the automation scripts you've recorded, and click the play button.

If IIM is beyond your budget, there are still alternatives. Windows and traditional Macs both have a limited built-in scripting capability that can be used for testing, and it doesn't take an engineer to use it. Mac X and Linux computers have even better capability, but it requires a real engineer to make it work.

Companies that develop software on Mac X and Linux platforms rely heavily on the wide variety of built-in tools found in all Unix-based operating systems, particularly shell programming languages. (Shell programming languages make it easy to talk to the operating system of the computer, and therefore easy to simulate the actions of a user.) A good engineer could develop tools to test an e-commerce Website using shell scripts, but engineering costs could run in the thousands, possibly more.

Another low cost approach would be hire local non-skilled labor to perform user testing at minimum wage, but this usually doesn't work out. Isolating and reporting bugs to engineers is a learned skill. Realistically, it would be as cheap, and more useful, to hire an offshore test team. You can get an engineer in India for the equivalent of minimum wage here, and Indian engineers supply their own computers.

Any way you look at it, there is no ideal way to perform business Website testing at low cost. It takes a combination of manual and automated testing, and neither is free. At least now, thanks to iOPUS Internet Macros, automation software has become affordable.

Glen Emerson Morris is currently Senior Quality Assurance Engineer responsible for e-mail services at Yahoo.com. Previously, he was a consultant for Ariba, WebMD, Inktomi, Apple, and Adobe.

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Copyright 1994 - 2010 by Glen Emerson Morris All Rights Reserved

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