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Desktop Virtualization Tips for Testing IE

Microsoft outlined desktop virtualization tips late last week that IT pros and developers can use to test the compatibility of their Web sites on a single PC.

The helpful hints on testing multiple versions of Internet Explorer arrived a few days before what might be Microsoft's debut of the release candidate (RC) version of IE 9, which is currently available as a beta. Rumor has it that Microsoft plans to announce the RC of IE 9 on Thursday Feb. 10.

Options for creating an IE browser test environment using desktop virtualization include using Microsoft Enterprise Desktop Virtualization (requires the Software Assurance licensing option), the use of Remote Desktop Services or Terminal Services (requires licensing on a per-user or per-device basis) and deploying Windows XP Mode. Those options are outlined in a Microsoft white paper available for download here. Of course, third-party desktop virtualization solutions could be used instead.

The reason that virtualization is brought up as a testing solution in the first place is that installing a newer version of Internet Explorer on a PC will remove the previously installed version of Microsoft's browser. A "Multiple IE" tool by Tredosoft once promised to provide a multiple browser solution by tweaking Windows DLLs, but support for that tool ended back in 2007.

A Microsoft blog posted on Friday describes how to set up a test environment using Windows XP Mode, which is free option for those licensed to use Windows 7 Enterprise, Professional or Ultimate editions. Running Windows XP Mode with Windows Virtual PC (a free download) provides a virtualized instance of Windows XP Service Pack 3, which runs on top of the Windows 7 desktop.

The blog contains a link showing how to create different virtual machines running different browsers, such as IE 6, IE 7, IE 8 and IE 9, all accessible on the Windows 7 desktop. The default browser for Windows XP is IE 6, but users can copy a virtual machine and set it up to run a particular browser.

Testers have yet another option of downloading a virtual hard drive of Windows XP SP3 for Windows Virtual PC from this page. The download page contains the imaged bits for testing IE 7 and IE 8. The bits contain the latest patches and security updates and will expire on May 18, 2011.

Microsoft has been promoting a goal for Web developers to get their sites to work with IE 9's or IE 8's standards modes, which are the default modes of those browsers. Developers can test for the best user Web site experience using Microsoft's browsers and then code their sites with a different document mode if intractable compatibility issues remain. Document mode choices include IE 9 standards, IE 8 standards, IE 7 standards and "quirks." The quirks document mode produces an IE 5 browser experience, as well as the user experiences found with the quirks modes of IE 6, IE 7 and IE 8.

Even though IE 9 is currently at beta, Microsoft claimed during its last financial earnings announcements that the beta has been downloaded more than 20 million times. It's not clear if those were all unique downloads or not. Currently, IE 9 use is just a statistical blip, according to Net Applications' January measure of browser market share.

IE 8 currently leads in terms of overall browser use at 34.2 percent, followed by Firefox at 18.5 percent and IE 6 at 11.4 percent. Google Chrome 8 edged out IE 7 by one percentage point (9.3 percent vs. 8.3 percent, respectively), according to Net Applications.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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