The Selenium Myth: It’s Not As Free As You Think

Selenium isn't Free

Selenium is firmly established as the leading open-source automation tool, but it has known and acknowledged limitations. Namely, maintenance effort and compatibility. No matter how proficient you are with Selenium, you’ll come up against these issues. 

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, but Selenium is free”. Well, that is a myth. 

Sure, Selenium doesn’t incur a license fee, but that’s never where the real cost lies. 

When it comes to software testing, people are the real cost. Reducing human effort is one of the 2 main reasons people turn to test automation. That, and increased speed.

Why Free isn’t Always Free

Even though Selenium is free at the point of acquisition, it’s not always the most cost-effective option. Some paid automation tools cost a lot less in the long run, primarily because they are designed to save huge amounts of time and effort. What’s more, they don’t suffer from Selenium’s maintenance and compatibility issues.

We all like to think we’re open-minded, but most of us are reluctant to change.

Of course, once you’ve used a tool for a while, you become somewhat attached to it. It’s perfectly natural. I’m sure you’ve seen first-hand, how quickly people will jump to the defence of Selenium, without really knowing much about the alternatives.

I’m not saying Selenium is useless, just that there are better, quicker, and more cost effective options. For instance, Micro Focus UFT

Why is Selenium so Popular?

Before we look at UFT, it’s worth delving into why and how Selenium has become so popular.

While there are a couple of reasons why people say they use Selenium, we need to be completely candid about this. There is one main deciding factor:

Businesses choose Selenium based on the perceived cost myth.

I recently spoke to a head of testing and discussed tools he wanted to improve testing. Before our chat, he had received some guidance from the Finance Director - He could have any tool he wanted as long as it was free.

The harsh reality though, is that software is never free. as with many open source solutions, Selenium carries a heavy total cost of ownership and is far from free.  

Automation testers choose Selenium because they love a challenge

Of course, automation geeks can (and do) wax lyrical about Selenium, I have had many such conversations. How much they enjoy the process, and the thrill of solving difficult challenges during work time. They admit that scripting will take longer, and script maintenance is a “pain”, but say that having fun is more important.

Constant Firefighting isn’t Great for Businesses

As interesting as repeated Selenium challenges might be for testers, I can assure you that project stakeholders find them less entertaining. Extra time spend coding and maintaining scripts is not the bedrock of frequent and dynamic software releases.

Rather than focussing on unit cost, if the finance director mentioned above had asked about the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) and ROI (Return on Investment) he would be a lot more likely to invest in efficient test tools. 

By the way, if you’re having problems getting budget, have a look at our guide to Building the Business Case for Buying Software

Where Selenium Ends Up Costing More than Other Tools

I've recently conducted a series of interviews with Selenium users and test automation managers. They all acknowledged the issues with Selenium discussed above. The following limitations put a drain on resources, add time to project durations and incur unnecessary costs.

Slow Scripting Times

When compared to tools like UFT, Selenium scripting is fairly bare-bones. In part that’s why some automation testers like it. I say testers, it might be more accurate to call them frustrated coders. This hardcore cabal will often cite how ‘fun’ Selenium is to use. This is euphemistic at best. What they really mean, is that Selenium throws up interesting challenges that take a great deal of time and effort to work through. While Selenium might satiate their inner developer, it does nothing for project timelines and resource budget.

Laborious Maintenance

Even the most ardent Selenium fans must agree that Selenium maintenance is a chore. There are no real scripting aids or any AI-driven maintenance. Selenium script maintenance requires considerable effort, often adding days, weeks, or months to timelines. As with the slow scripting times, this is not conducive to modern, high release software environments, it all adds significant cost. 

Support for Enterprise Applications

Selenium also struggles, or outright fails, to automate many crucial non-web technologies. Think about those critical enterprise-level solutions that underpin your whole business, whether it's SAP, Oracle, Citrix, or something similar. Selenium can’t do anything meaningful with them. Selenium users I’ve spoken to all agree, that you need an additional automation tool like UFT to automate these key technologies.

Selenium isn’t Embracing Test AI

People have been talking about test automation AI for years, and its potential to reduce maintenance time and effort. For a long time, AI was ‘just around the corner’. Nowadays, test automation AI is a rock-solid reality. With tools like UFT, scripts can be developed once and used for multiple browsers and mobile devices. Plus, significant manual maintenance is a thing of the past, but that’s not the case with Selenium.

Please note, I’m not saying Selenium hasn’t been developed, it absolutely has. Selenium has received frequent updates over the years, just not in key areas like AI. Although the pace of Selenium development does appear to have slowed since Simon Stewart stepped down at the back end of 2021.

Selenium: Why it’s Time to Look at Cheaper Options

People use Selenium because they think it’s a cost-effective automation solution. This is a myth. Selenium costs way more than you think, and it probably doesn’t support the applications you need. Because of that, it’s time you looked at other options.

When you factor in effort and time, the cost argument quickly (or painfully slowly) disappears. Especially with tools like UFT One becoming ever-more affordable.

If you are worried about losing your existing investment in Selenium scripts, these can continue to be used and when they need updating this can be done using UFT Developer, part of UFT One.

Not only is UFT cost-effective and flexible, but it also comes with:

  • Enterprise application support
  • Rapid scripting time
  • AI driven maintenance

As Calleo have discovered in our recent series of interviews... even hardcore Selenium users turn to UFT when they need to automate their wider landscapes. 

Stephen Davis
by Stephen Davis

Stephen Davis is the founder of Calleo Software, a Micro Focus (formerly HPE Software) Gold Partner. His passion is to help test professionals improve the efficiency and effectiveness of software testing.

To view Stephen's LinkedIn profile and connect 

Stephen Davis LinkedIn profile

1st June 2022

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