By Eric Geier
If you’re writing or implementing a Web application on your network, you might want to test it with different versions of Internet Explorer (IE). This is especially true with the major changes that occurred in the IE rendering engine between IE7 and 8. However, as you might already know, Microsoft does not let you install multiple versions of IE on the same machine.
Don’t let Microsoft stop you. You can use what are commonly referred to as standalone versions of Internet Explorer. These are modified versions of the program that can be installed right along with other official or standalone installations. Instead of running between computers that have the various Internet Explorer versions installed, you can stay put and run them simultaneously on one PC. You might even want to play with the almost 15-year-old IE 1 that debuted back in August of 1995.
In addition to standalone versions, there are test browsers that emulate the different versions of Internet Explorer and other Web browsers. This makes it convenient since there’re all in one app. Another way to test Web sites or applications is to use online services that provide screen shots of the given URL in different browsers on various operating systems.
Safeguard Your Computer First
Keep in mind, these standalone versions of Internet Explorer are not official and aren’t released by Microsoft. Before downloading them, it’s a good idea to at least create a new system restore point. That way if the installation causes problems, you can just roll your system back.
To bring up System Restore in Windows XP, Vista, or 7, click Start > All Programs > Accessories > System Tools > System Restore.
The Internet Explorer Collection
There are packages of standalone IE versions, such as the Internet Explorer Collection by Edskes Software. Its current release at the time of this writing (184.108.40.206) includes over a dozen versions, from IE 1 to IE 8, and a few in between. It’s supported on Windows XP, Vista, and 7.
This package of IE browsers also includes the Developer Toolbar. It helps you validate CSS and HTML, preview pages at various resolutions, and do other testing. These features have actually been built into IE 8, where they’re referred to as the Developer Tools.
When you’re installing the IE Collection, you can pick exactly which versions you want to install. If you run into any problems or have questions about the collection, review the extensive FAQ. If you want to see what they’ve added over the years, check out the change log.
The IETester Browser
One universal browser that emulates different IE versions is IETester. It can imitate IE 5.5 through IE 8 on Windows XP, Vista or 7. At the time of this writing, it’s still in the alpha release stage but can be helpful with simpler sites or applications.
IETester even sports the new ribbon interface, instead of the ol’ toolbar. You can easily bring up windows for each of the versions. Plus you can launch tabs of different versions to get a good look at them all.
The BrowserShots Service
If you need to test against other browsers as well, check out BrowserShots. Though it’s not an actual browser, it helps you see what a site or application will look like in many browsers. Type in a URL, select the desired browsers, and hit Submit. It will come back with a snapshot of what the page looks like in each browser.
Currently there are over 80 supported browsers. The 28 for Linux range from Dillo to Shiretoko. There are 52 for Windows, from Avant and Chrome to Safari and SeaMonkey. Four more are supported for BSD operating systems.
After you submit a URL, screen shots for some browsers and operating systems will appear quickly. Others, however, might take several minutes to over an hour. They’re added to the queue and will appear when they’re done.
There Are More Solutions
We’ve only covered a few solutions. You might also look into Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Compatibility Test Tool, a part of the Application Compatibility Toolkit. Also consider using virtual hard drives (VHDs) to run the different IE versions with Virtual PC. Microsoft calls these the IE Application Compatibility VPC Images.
If you like BrowserShots but it isn’t quick enough, check out IE NetRenderer. Though it only supports Internet versions 5.5 through 8, it provides an instant image of what the URL looks like.