Browser Testing Becomes Easier with modern.IE

Contributing Editor

Internet Explorer development has always been tougher than it should be:

  • There are five versions of IE currently in use and at least three need attention.
  • IE6, 7 and 8 have sparse support for modern web standards.
  • Only versions 9 and 10 support HTML5 and they’re behind competing browsers.
  • Only one version of IE can be installed and run at a time.
  • IE is only available for Windows.

Admittedly, a proportion of developers find it easier to blame the browser than fixing issues, but creating cross-browser compatible sites remains a struggle even when you retain an unhealthy knowledge of legacy IE workarounds.

Fortunately, Microsoft appears to regret the pain they inflicted on web developers over the years. modern.IE is a new Microsoft resource to help test websites and applications on the major versions of Internet Explorer. There are several free features which will interest all web developers regardless of their preferred platform or browsers…

modern.IE

Webpage Scanner

Scan a webpage is an analysis tool which generates a report of known compatibility issues such as:

  • standards/quirks mode
  • out of date libraries
  • missing CSS prefixes
  • reliance on browser plugins
  • browser detection code
  • responsive web design practices

There are a number of IE/Windows 8-only suggestions but, even if you have no interest in adding these, the report still provides useful information which will help you locate and destroy bugs.

Free Virtual Machine Images

If you’re testing a specific version of the browser, IE emulators and the F12 Developer Tools do not necessarily highlight all the problems. Ideally, you need a dedicated PC or Virtual Machine installation.

modern.IE’s virtual tools provides free VM images for Hyper-V, Virtual PC, VirtualBox and VMware on Windows, Mac and Linux:

  • IE6 on Windows XP
  • IE7 on Windows Vista
  • IE8 on Windows 7
  • IE9 on Windows 7
  • IE10 on Windows 8

The OS images range between 1GB and 7GB so ensure you’ve got enough disk space available. Look out for a Hyper-V tutorial coming on SitePoint soon…

Free BrowserStack Subscription

BrowserStack provides dozens of desktop and mobile browsers on virtual machines which can be accessed remotely via your browser. There’s nothing to install, manage or configure — just log on, choose a platform and load your site. The service also provides tunneling facilities so you can test applications hosted on your local PC or network.

Sign-up at modern.IE and you’ll receive a three month BrowserStack subscription for free.

Compatibility Advice

Finally, there’s 20 tips for building modern websites which contains simple best-practice advice for maximizing compatibility.

The more cynical among you will claim this mess was of Microsoft’s making and modern.IE should never have been required in the first place. However, at least the company has recognized our testing problems and provided a number of practical solutions.

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  • Patrick

    While I welcome this as an undoubtably useful (and long-overdue) tool which will make browser-testing significantly easier, I don’t think it’s cynical to say that it should never have been required. It shouldn’t be required. It makes a difficult and annoying task – fixing bugs in IE – easier and faster, but it doesn’t eliminate the problem entirely.

    You’ll notice that no other browser vendor has been forced to produce anything like this.

    So while I commend Microsoft for making a good effort to clean up their own mess, I think it’s entirely reasonable to continue to direct scorn and criticism at them for causing so many problems in the first place. Even now, they seem unable to function at a particularly high level – IE10 is hardly a revolution. In fact, it’s probably the worst of the modern browsers, and it doesn’t run on older versions of Windows, including Windows 7. They can’t get their own browser to run on the previous version of their own operating system several months after it was “released”? Excuse me if I’m not overflowing with praise.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      I agree, although several of Microsoft’s mistakes are only apparent with the benefit of hindsight.

      The first was the decision to make a browser an integral part of the OS (primarily v4 in 1997). That was a logical move and permitted developers to utilize libraries for web communication. Unfortunately, it also meant you couldn’t have two versions installed. I sure they could have coded around that, but there wasn’t any necessity back then and we’re living with the fallout today.

      The next bad decision was abandoning IE development. Microsoft didn’t consider the browser to be a viable application platform — remember this was in the days before Ajax even though they invented the technology. It took them far too long to address their mistake.

      IE has improved dramatically, but:

      1. Development is too slow. This has resulted in significant changes between browser versions and is part of the reason why facilities such as modern.IE are required.

      2. The company is causing increased fragmentation. IE10 is not available on XP and Vista for business reasons; not technical. MS want the world to move on from XP but it won’t happen as quickly as they hoped.

      But the situation is what it is. We can complain and criticize but, ultimately, we need to make our sites work in IE (at least in v8 and above going by current usage statistics).

    • Logic Earth

      While no other browser vendor has to do this is because they are not used in commercial applications running on hundreds of computers within a company. Majority of the issue is corporate computers running fixed intranet software that only works in one version of IE (Mostly IE6). Those corporate systems are what is forcing older versions of IE to remain.

      Microsoft is a for-profit company, like Apple, and Google. There is no incentive for them to develop software for their old platforms. Even tho they could port IE9 to Windows XP, their is no finical gain to do so. When their goal is to get you to update to the latest platform. That is business. Don’t like, well tuff. Apple, and Google do the same exact thing.

      Also, IE 10 does run on Windows 7! It just has not been released for it as this time, currently in Preview if I recall correctly.

  • Richard Miller

    Why can’t they just supply standalone downloads of each browser that work side by side? It’s the craziest thing ever, I’ve never understood it.

    I used to use to some tool which did this but can’t find it now.

    • http://www.optimalworks.net/ Craig Buckler

      IE does have browser modes – in IE10, you can emulate back to v7. Unfortunately, it’s not perfect – although it’s good enough for basic layout testing.

      You’re possibly thinking of IE Tester:
      http://www.my-debugbar.com/wiki/IETester/HomePage
      It’s very good but, again, it’s not always stable or reliable. For example, it normally uses the most recent JavaScript engine regardless of HTML rendering mode.

  • http://www.mattearly.com Matt Early

    Does anyone actually know and why IE continues to fall behind all other major browsers when it comes to these sort of issues?

  • Liam

    Anyone else finding the IE7, IE8 and IE9 virtual box zip files are empty? No? Must be me then…

    • Liam

      Resolved – The issue was the zip files could not be extracted on Linux (Kubuntu), as the shear size of the zip files, or the size of the single file for which each of them hold, is above the old file system 4GB marker… No issues with the file system, so it must be a legacy software issue.

      Extracting the “zip” files from within a Windows 7 virtual machine has worked just fine.

      Why did MS bother to “zip” the files? For those three, the zip file is larger than the actual “.ova” files inside them

  • Kenny Landes

    It is so Microsoft to offer a pseudo-solution for a real problem they caused. Even better is that when I download the VMWare files from their site, and go to open them, the files are corrupt. I’ve tried several times now. I shouldn’t be surprised at all that Microsoft is wasting my time YET AGAIN.

  • http://www.webdepend.co.uk Tom Batey

    Good article Craig.

    It is a shame that Microsoft launch modern.IE just as testing on older browsers such as IE6 and IE7 is not so important now. IE6 is now used by hardly anybody and support for IE7 is not as important as it was a year or so ago.

    In fact, we’ve dropped IE7 from our standard browser list now but of course will continue to test in it if clients need it.

    Browserstack is a good tool, as are some others such as Crossbrowsertesting.com but they can be a bit slow to use and so having a locally installed browser is still best. Something like Multi-Browser Viewer is a pretty good solution for that (we use all these browser tools at WebDepend).

    Something else that would be interesting is if Microsoft can provide more resources on testing on mobile devices running Windows, rather than just pushing you to use Browserstack.