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Run Internet Explorer on Your Mac for Free

by Michael Malphurs

As a web developer, you will be hard pressed to find a colleague that has not had issues with Internet Explorer and how it renders our carefully crafted, precious code. Or, to be more specific, how it fails to render our precious code. There is nothing more aggravating than to see your site working perfectly on everything, only to be told by your client that it looks terrible on Internet Explorer 7, 8 and 9.

So, if you are a developer using a Mac (as we are), then how do you truly test your site(s) on Internet Explorer? There are several ways, but most of them are either quite expensive or unreliable. Among others:

  • Adobe BrowserLab – Free for CS owners, but it is slow and the rendering is often inaccurate
  • Parallels (with IE installed) – Parallels offers great virtualization software. But, who wants to buy and install multiple versions of Windows, only to have all this software bog down the performance of your shiny Mac?
  • Browserling or Browserstack – These services are both good, but quickly become expensive with monthly costs.

So, what to do? A fairly new method has become available… One that is attractive for two reasons. It is both reliable and free! Let’s take a look at how we can run Internet Explorer on our Mac with VirtualBox software.

In a nutshell, here is what we will do via the steps below:

  • Download Oracle’s free VirtualBox software and install it
  • Download Internet Explorer virtual testing machines from GitHub
  • Launch and use the software!

The advantages of testing this way are numerous:

  • True rendering of your site in the Internet Explorer environment
  • No license key or activations required (they are auto-updated monthly for you via snapshots)
  • Quick and easy testing
  • No need to bog down your machine with other virtualization programs
  • All for free!

The disadvantages are few, but worth noting:

  • The files take up a huge amount of hard drive space (over 50 gigs!)
  • Due to the massive downloads required, the set-up takes quite a bit of time

IMPORTANT NOTE: Ensure you have the proper hard drive space BEFORE you begin the installation steps below. I suggest having at least 50 gigs of hard drive space available just for the software you will be downloading.

Lets begin!

Begin by going to the VirtualBox download page or downloading the software directly via this link.

VirtualBox weighs in at 90 megs, so this is one of the few files that will not take long to download. But, it is important to install the VirtualBox software before moving on to step 2. Otherwise, step 2 will error out and fail!

The next step may be a bit intimidating for some users because it involves using the Terminal. Fear not, though, as it is actually easier than navigating to a web page and finding the right link!

But first, a little explanation of what we will be doing. According to the GitHub page where we will get our downloads:

“Microsoft provides virtual machine disk images to facilitate website testing in multiple versions of IE, regardless of the host operating system. Unfortunately, setting these virtual machines up without Microsoft’s VirtualPC can be extremely difficult. The ievms scripts aim to facilitate that process using VirtualBox on Linux or OS X. With a single command, you can have IE6, IE7, IE8 and IE9 running in separate virtual machines.”

Sounds good right? Right! To begin, open up Terminal, which is found in your Applications folder. Once the Terminal window has appeared, copy one of the code options below:

To download Internet Explorer versions 6, 7, 8 and 9:
curl -s | bash

For internet Explorer 7 ONLY:
curl -s | IEVMS_VERSIONS="7" bash

For internet Explorer 8 ONLY:
curl -s | IEVMS_VERSIONS="8" bash

For internet Explorer 9 ONLY:
curl -s | IEVMS_VERSIONS="9" bash

Next, go back to Terminal and paste the code into the window. Be sure to hit the return key when you are done.

Installing Virtual Box with Terminal

What happens next is the part that takes the greatest portion of time. I suggest letting things download overnight in order to save your sanity. Since I chose to download all versions of IE, I needed to download over 50 gigs of files!

The good news is that Terminal will download and install all the files for you. Once it is done downloading, the only thing you will need to do is…

Find the VirtualBox software within your Applications folder. Once you have opened the program, you will see your version(s) of Internet Explorer all pretty and nice, waiting to be launched and let you test to your heart’s content. Simply choose the version of IE you wish to use and click “Start”.

That’s it!

VirtualBox Screenshot

It is good practice to read through the VirtualBox user guide to ensure you properly customize your virtualization settings. This will help in many ways… Primarily in speed and performance.

Also, should you need it, the default admin password for all Internet Explorer virtual testing machines is “Password1″ (without the quotes).

Finally, should you wish to check out all your testing options, check out the great Smashing Magazine article on the issue.