Testing for multiple versions of Internet Explorer

Only one version of Internet Explorer (IE) can exist on a single windows installation by default. I had previously used Multiple IE as a way of testing web pages on older versions of IE. This allows you to have IE3, IE4, IE5, IE5.5, and IE6 installed alongside your existing IE7 or IE8 install. You can even run them concurrently.
Internet Explorer Logo
I don’t test pages on anything earlier than IE6 anymore, but IE6 still accounts for more than 5% of my site traffic. Multiple IE basically helps me test both IE6 and IE8 from the same machine. However, there is still the IE7 gap, plus Multiple IE, which is no longer being updated or maintained, can produce some glitchy behavior.

It turns out, though, Microsoft offers some tools to help test their legacy browsers.

Microsoft offers several Windows virtual hard disks (VHDs) that can be loaded using Virtual PC. If you run IE8, you can download VHDs that include IE6 and IE7, and run them through a virtual environment.

Two drawbacks compared to Multiple IE: the VHD files are huge (some are 800+ MB), and in my experience, the virtual machines run hopelessly slowly. (The latter may be due to my environment or my Virtual PC settings.) However, it does allow you to test web pages on fully-functional versions of IE6, IE7, and IE8 without maintaining separate testing machines.

I’m running VMWare Fusion on Mac OSX (Leopard), which allows me to test Firefox and Safari on the Mac, as well as the PC versions of the browsers through a Windows VM. I could presumably create separate VMs for IE6 and IE7, although that may not be kosher with Microsoft’s licensing for my copy of Windows XP. It is frankly easier, however, to run Virtual PC through my Windows VM, than to install Windows XP twice more over.

4 thoughts on “Testing for multiple versions of Internet Explorer”

  1. Hi Chris,

    Microsoft has another offering for cross-browser testing which is much more convenient than using VHDs. The feature is called “SuperPreview” and its in Expression Web 3. It lets you to view any page in IE 6, 7, 8, and Firefox 3. Safari support will also be added soon. One of the interesting things about SuperPreview is that you can view the page in different browsers side-by-side or even onion-skinned. This really helps you see minor differences in placement.

    You can read about it more at these links, and I’m happy to help if you have any questions too.

    1) http://www.istartedsomething.com/20090318/expression-web-superpreview-cross-browser-testing/

    2) http://blogs.msdn.com/xweb/archive/2009/03/18/superpreview-for-internet-explorer.aspx

    3) http://visitmix.com/News/Expression-Web-SuperPreview

    4) http://expression.microsoft.com/en-us/dd565874.aspx


  2. Sean, I just installed SuperPreview, and it looks great. At first, I found the method for adding (i.e. more than 2) browsers for comparison a little strange, until I read the logic behind it on the last link you provided.

    In addition to the selection mode and panning mode, I wish it had a browsing mode, so that I could activate form elements and links. The links seem particularly important to me because they may activate Javascript on a dynamic page, or just provide an easy way to navigate to a secondary page (e.g. checking compatibility on a multi-page form).

  3. For the past several months I have been using the beta of IE9, which has a great set of developer tools (similar to what is in Google Chrome, or in Firefox with the Firebug add-on). It has the ability to switch between browser modes (IE7, IE8, and IE9) and document modes (Quirks, IE7 standards, IE8 standards, and IE9 standards).

    Unfortunately, 2-3% of my visitors are still using IE6 (slightly higher than my iOS users).

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