Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Testing Internet Explorer 8 using Virtual PC

It doesn't seem all that long ago that I was writing about first impressions of Microsoft Internet Explorer 7, but it's actually nearly 2½ years ago (in October 2006), and here we are again with the launch of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 8.

The Microsoft Internet Explorer homepage is all full of news and video's about how it's quicker, more secure, more compatible and overall a 'better browsing experience' than the competitor browsers (most notably of course Firefox and Chrome), but I'm sure the reality is that it's a case of Microsoft catching up and perhaps slightly leap-frogging them, only in turn to be leap-frogged with the next Firefox version.

I have to admit to being a bit worried about this new version as Microsoft have made strides to make IE8 more standards compatible (something they were ludicrously poor at in the past), but of course in doing so many legacy websites will "break" and not render properly.

Some months ago I asked a friend of mine who'd installed the IE8 beta on his machine to see if our holiday rental website rendered properly, and the news and screenshots weren't good, seemingly the website design that I'd spent months on didn't work properly.

IE8 Compatibility View
Microsoft have tried to ease the transition pain by adding a 'Compatibility View' button (right next to the Refresh button on the address bar), and my friend told me that the site worked OK in compatibility mode with the IE8 beta version, but nevertheless anything that detracts potential customers from the website is something I want to avoid (hence all the pain I've suffered in trying to get the website W3C standards compliant).

On away from the main IE8 public launch section, on the Microsoft Developer Network site, I found an article about the different IE8 website compatibility modes and how you can use a new 'X-UA-Compatible' meta tag in your HTML <head> section to force the visitor's browser into 'legacy compatibility mode', emulating either IE5, IE7 or IE8.

Currently I have IE7 on my home computer and IE6 on my work computer so I can easily test browser compatibility on the two main IE versions. Similarly I have Firefox 2 on the home machine and Firefox 3 and Chrome on my work computer.

I was thinking therefore that I would have to upgrade one of the machines to IE8 to try out the new browser, when I found through MSDN details of a set of Microsoft Virtual PC images for different versions of Internet Explorer.

Provided are images of Windows XP with Internet Explorer 6, IE7 and IE8 and also Vista with IE7. All you have to do to try them out is download and install Microsoft Virtual PC (a mere 30-odd Mb) and then download the selected images. Each image basically comprises a virtual hard disk with the operating system and browser pre-installed; you start up MS Virtual PC, point it at the downloaded hard disk image and then it starts up as a 'PC within a PC' so you can easily test that your website operates properly with the new browser version.

It does take quite a while to download each VPC image as they're 600+Mb in size (and the Vista image is a wopping 2Gb), but they really are a doddle to use.

After trying out XP with IE8 on both the Gite website and this Blog I was really pleased to find out that everything displayed properly without having to revert to compatibility mode.

The only problem I discovered was that the 'Photo Gallery' feature (using Pictobrowser) didn't work with IE8. After a bit of head scratching I realised that the XP IE8 VPC image only had Flash v6 installed. Downloading and upgrading to Flash v10 cured the problem.

The Windows XP images all automatically expire (and stop working) at the end of April 2009 and the Vista image expires 120 days after first use, so these are not permanent test facilities, but they're certainly very useful.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home