Three weeks ago I used to equip myself with the latest old IEs (if that makes any sense). I advise you to do the same.

During recent sponsorship talks a Microsoft representative pointed out the existence of this resource, and asked me to spread the word. I studied it, downloaded the IEs and used them in my recent tests, and now I’m convinced. So here I am spreading the word.

What is is Microsoft’s offering of tools to test your sites in different browsers; not only old IEs, but also mobile ones.

There’s a page scanner that scans for common coding problems. It gives tips and tricks (with a slight, but not huge, IE-centric slant), and it offers access to the BrowserStack screenshot service. Although I myself don’t use such services, not every web developer will have 33 mobile phones on his desk, so I expect some people will be interested in this offering.

There’s a useful article about modern web development. If you’re an accomplished web developer it won’t hold many surprises for you, but we need more of these articles so that even newbies will eventually come across them and learn best practices.

Getting old IEs

Still, to me, and probably to most other web developers, the old IEs are the core of the site’s offerings. I downloaded four virtual machines and am quite happy with them. I advise you to do the same (the downloading; not necessarily the being happy).

Last year I downloaded the virtual machines offered here. I thought they were official Microsoft releases, but it seems they’re not. In any case, they were far too large. I can’t remember the exact size, but in the end I could only install two of them instead of the four I wanted.

(OK, so maybe 120G is too little disk space for my main computer. When I bought it I was sure it would be enough. What do I know?)

These old virtual machines took a lot of disk space, demanded a login/password every time I started them up, and started complaining about missing Windows licenses about ten days after I installed them. Also, the IE6 machine did not work for me.


Recently I downloaded the Mac/Virtual Box vrtualizations for IE7 (Windows Vista), 8, 9, and 11 (Windows 7). For IE10 tests I use my Surface, so I didn’t install that one. (The virtual machines also exist for other virtualization platforms on Mac, as well as for Windows and Linux. I didn’t try those, so I won’t talk about them.)

Not only are the virtual Windows downloads a lot lighter than the previous ones, but Microsoft has gone to some trouble to make them useful to us. Besides, they’re official releases, which means we can blame Microsoft officially if there’s anything wrong with them. (So far I found no problems.)

I kept track of the space requirements of the IE9/Win7 and IE11/Win7 ones: now that I installed them and removed all the installation files they take roughly 10G and 15G, respectively. That’s still a lot, but it’s definitely less than the earlier ones. In D&D terms, the machines have gone from Colossal all the way down to Gargantuan.

The login/password requirement has disappeared. That’s good. It wasn’t a huge problem, but it gets annoying after a time or six.

The virtualizations have desktop wallpapers that show the Windows and IE versions in large, user-friendly letters. That’s very useful. After fifteen years of experience I can distinguish between IE versions on sight most of the time, but I guess other web developers may have problems with that. (Virtual Box always shows the virtualization name, which includes the browser name, but I’m not sure if other systems do the same.)

There were a few minor problems during installation: the IE7/Vista one started to update itself; the IE9/7 one wanted me to restart it for reasons unclear, and the IE11/7 one said something about USB2 that I ignored. After I did what was required, the machines worked fine.

Licensing, sadly, is still a problem. From about two weeks after installation, each Windows will alert you that it’s not genuine yaddah yaddah yaddah. Nothing actually happens besides the messages, but it might still be a good idea to create a snapshot as soon as you’ve installed the machines, so that you can revert if necessary.


If Microsoft wants to make these virtualizations even better than they are now, it should do the following:

  1. Remove the licensing stuff. (I know, Legal will get a collective heart attack, but how bad is that in the long run?)
  2. Update the virtual machines when the Windows version is updated, so that users aren’t confronted with updates when they’ve just installed the machines. (Minor gripe, but still.)
  3. Turn on JavaScript error messages by default for all IEs. I remember where to enable them, but will every web developer?
  4. And if the VMs could be made even lighter, well, that would please me a lot.

Microsoft has given us excellent tools to test old IEs. It would be even better if the old IEs would go away by themselves, but since that’s not in the cards right now I advise every web developer to use to equip him- or herself with the latest old IEs.

This is the blog of Peter-Paul Koch, web developer, consultant, and trainer. You can also follow him on Twitter or Mastodon.
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