Testing IE in an MS VMware guest

Microsoft provides guest images for testing various versions of Internet Explorer and MS operating systems. Here are some tips I learned along the way.

Like a lot of American companies, mine uses Microsoft Windows as its standard desktop operating system and a combination of Internet Explorer and another publisher’s product for web browsing. Unofficially, of course, many of my colleagues use at least one other popular web browser (and some many more) in their daily work.

A basic challenge faced by most web developers is that they’re only issued a single PC to do their work. As a result they are only able to test how their applications behave for one combination of Microsoft operating system and IE browser version. As we all know, however, there are significant differences in how different combinations behave. The experience of a user running IE 6 on Windows XP is completely different from someone running IE 8 on Windows 7. Those differences get even wider when going to IE 9, 10 and then 11 on Win 7 or Win 8. While “compatibility view” may have sounded like a good idea when it was invented, it almost always falls short in predicting what actual user experience is going to be.

Microsoft has offered some relief in the form of virtual disk images with various versions of Internet Explorer across a number of different MS operating system versions. These can be downloaded from the Modern IE site. Images are provided for Microsoft’s own Hyper-V, Oracle VirtualBox and VMware Player. The browser/OS pairs range from IE 6 on Win XP to IE 11 on Win 8.1 (sorry, no servers represented here). The operating system images are time-limited evaluation copies whose registration can be extended out to 6 months (read the EULA for details). Most professional development shops will probably want to consider getting full licenses so they won’t have to continually tear down and re-install their test VMs, although certainly that could be done easily enough.

The images are all packaged in several separate archives with an executable installer. For the IE 8 on Windows 7 VMware image, for example, the following files had to be downloaded:

IE8.Win7.For.WindowsVMware.part001.exe 10MB
IE8.Win7.For.WindowsVMware.part002.rar 1GB
IE8.Win7.For.WindowsVMware.part003.rar 1GB
IE8.Win7.For.WindowsVMware.part004.rar 1GB
IE8.Win7.For.WindowsVMware.part005.rar 1GB

The final compiled disk image will weigh in at nearly 4GB and will include the following files:

IE8-Win7.mf
IE8-Win7.ovf
IE8_-_Win7-disk1.vmdk

These are imported by VMware Player to create a new virtual machine by starting the Player, clicking “Open a Virtual Machine” on the Home screen and then configuring a unique name (for example, Win7-IE8) and location for the image (I put mine under “C:\Virtual Machines”, resulting in a path like “C:\Virtual Machines\Win7-IE8”). After initial start up it’s a good idea to increase the amount of RAM available to at least 2GB (the default it 512MB, which may cause your VM to run too slowly for comfort).

If you plan to have your guest connect to a corporate network over a VPN you should change the machine’s virtual Network Adapter from Bridged to NAT (get to this by right-clicking on the guest’s icon and selecting Settings… Virtual Machine Settings… Hardware… Network Adapter, a restart of the guest is required to effect the change). Otherwise your guest will bind to the physical interface directly instead of routing through whatever virtual adapter your VPN has set up. It will be able to access the Internet but won’t see anything on internal network across the VPN.

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About phil

My name is Phil Lembo. In my day job I’m an enterprise IT architect for a leading distribution and services company. The rest of my time I try to maintain a semi-normal family life in the suburbs of Raleigh, NC. E-mail me at philipATlembobrothersDOTcom. The opinions expressed here are entirely my own and not those of my employers, past, present or future (except where I quote others, who will need to accept responsibility for their own rants).