Why IE doesn't play nicely

As all web designers know, Internet Explorer is the thorn in our collective flesh. Even with the dramatic improvements in IE7, it still finds ways to annoy. However, the nice chaps at Microsoft have gone some way to soothing our fevered brows.

Update: Thanks to all of you who pointed out that VMWare actually made their virtual PC free before Microsoft and Microsoft are just following suit. Kind of takes the edge off of my somewhat limited enthusiasm for the move!

I have to confess I am generally a bit of a Microsoft groupie. Unlike most designers, I don’t hate windows. In fact, I positively love the new version of Office and think Microsoft has improved a lot as a company recently. However, Internet Explorer still manages to extract swear words from me that would make my mother blush.

So if you are a web designer or web site owner looking to test your site on multiple versions of Internet explorer then head on over to the Microsoft Virtual PC website and download yourself a copy for free!

I can live with the CSS bugs thanks to conditional comments. I can even live with the fact that IE doesn’t support any of the cool stuff in CSS. I console myself with the fact that IE7 is so much better. Although even here my patience is tested, as the third Beta seems to reduce my PC to the speed of a ZX spectrum (am I the only one with this problem?).

No, what really gets to me is that you cannot run multiple versions of Internet Explorer together on the same machine. It sucks! I listened to Chris Wilson (lead developer on IE7) try to justify this travesty at the @media conference, but he did little to calm my hysteria. Although the reasons are all very logical, it does nothing to change the fact that I have to battle with this problem every day.

Sure, there are solutions of a sort:

I can download the hacked standalone versions of IE, cobbled together by other frustrated developers. However, although these are valiant endeavours, their consistency with the real version of IE is spotty to say the least.

Alternatively, I could pay shed loads of cash and buy something like VMWare, which allows me to run multiple "virtual" versions of an operating system within windows.

However at last Microsoft has shouldered some of its responsibility and made their version of VMWare (a product called Microsoft Virtual PC) free.

So if you are a web designer or web site owner looking to test your site on multiple versions of Internet explorer then head on over to the Microsoft Virtual PC website and download yourself a copy for free! Obviously, having to install multiple versions of Windows isn’t an ideal solution but at least it works and with Virtual PC it is about as painless as possible to do.

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  • While IE7 is a huge help, I only fear it will make things even more difficult. Unless it seems logical to drop support of one of the older version of IE (5, or 5.5) now we just have one more browser to design for and the older ones are still going to be a huge pain to work with.

  • I notice that this week Microsoft has dropped support for Windows 98 that was the last operating system preinstalled with IE 5. You have to say if they are no longer supporting it then I am not sure I want to be actively testing in it anymore. That is not to say I wont bear it in mind and design around its “limitations” but perhaps its time to end bug fixing for this browser.

  • I agree with the last point, its about time support was dropped for this prehistoric browser, its just holding back design as a whole and making things difficult.
    Besides, whats the excuse for not downloading a free update if you have ie5? There isent really one, so if you use it, its your own fault.

  • I got the free VMWare (it don’t cost a pence) and it works very well. I created two virtual machines, one with Windows 2000 running IE 5 SP2 and another running Windows XP with IE7 Beta 2. I haven’t tried Beta 3 yet based on some of the problems I’ve heard about it.

  • If I can run IE 6 on Linux using Wine, I can’t believe it’s so hard to run multiple versions of IE under Windows.

  • Eric

    I installed IE7 Beta 3 on my computer at work and I haven’t had any problems with it whatsoever. The only problem I had was uninstalliong Beta 2 so that I could install Beta 3.
    Also, could someone post up some links to where I can download older versions of Internet Explorer please? Thanks!

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you have to have another Windows license for each copy of Windows you install in a virtual machine?
    Kind of negates the benefit of making VirtualPC free, doesn’t it? Why should we have to pay Microsoft extra money in order to test multiple versions of their crappy browsers?

  • I installed IE 7 Beta 3 to test a new layout. I had to use windows restore because it caused MS Money 2006 to not work. At least I know my new layout works :)

  • I was browsing using IE 5, the other day and went to MSN.com and that site is jacked up by this browser but why? Microsoft must not care about it anymore or bad design approach i dunno :o).

  • Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t you have to have
    another Windows license for each copy of Windows you
    install in a virtual machine?
    If it wasn’t free you would still have to pay for the licensing.
    Oh you’re saying about multiple simultaneous copies of XP (for example) – I’m not sure if you do or not, it’s a legal fuzzy because you can only use one copy of the OS at any one time (interactively that is) and it’s installed on a single hardware box…..

  • Simon

    Just downloaded VirtualPC and installed it on my Windows partition on my MacBookPro and I think it’s excellent, and I’m sure VMWare would be just as good. I’ve set up 3 virtual machines – win95 was a challenge my MBP doesn’t have a floppy drive! Managed to find a copy of the boot disk to cinvert to a virtual disk.
    Anyway, my question is this: is it possible to set up a local webserver on the host machine which I then access pages via my virtual machines, or can you only test online?

  • Yeah it is definately possible. Simply enter the computer name of the web server into the address bar of your browser. E.g. http://PaulsLaptop/

  • Simon

    I have downloaded IE7 Beta 3 and am having a real tussle with it: on my MacBook Pro, setup with bootcamp it runs absolutely fine, but on my PC it was impossible; when you started it, it ran up 97% of the CPU processes and never went anywhere. I have had to uninstall it – no mean feat!
    Also, I am glad that IE will render PNGs (more) properly, but is anyone else having trouble with Firefox 2 Beta 1 not handling them as well as 1.5 used to?