IE on a Mac … Finally A Reasonable Solution

If you’re a Web professional who consults with the Government like me, you’re inevitably routinely frustrated by the need to still test your sites on Internet Explorer (IE).  The Government’s slowness to adopt new technologies keeps us having to make things compatible for aging and poorly-implemented standards.  Worse yet, Microsoft’s unwillingness to make its versions of IE (going back to v6 … they’re up to v9 now) available for the Mac platform serves as a major hinderance for Web designers and developers who may (and often do) opt for the Mac.

Don’t get me wrong, I still have a Windows machine and actually like the Windows 7 OS.  But I cut my teeth on Mac in the early 90s and returned to it last year as my primary OS, opting for Win7 as a backup OS for any needs that just can’t be filled by the Mac.

Overcoming the IE blocker has traditionally been handled one of a few ways:

  1. Suck it up and stick with Windows (Gee, isn’t that limiting?)
  2. Work for a company with deep pockets that can afford an IT infrastructure and the staff to maintain it, and they have multiple Windows servers each running the different versions of IE that you can connect to via Remote Desktop (nice, but elitist).
  3. Dual-Boot your Mac so you can boot Windows (very clunky as you can’t work in the Mac OS simultaneously)
  4. Buy licenses for VMWare and Windows and run Windows in a virtualized instance on top of your Mac OS (overcomes the dual-boot problem, but can be costly to have enough licenses for all the permutations you’ll need).

Admittedly, I like Option #4 for having the “latest and greatest” Windows experience.  It helps run software that isn’t Mac-compatible and lets you have the best of both worlds.  But again, in the Government world, you need to test each major version of IE, and due to Microsoft’s architecture of the software, you can’t cleanly install multiple versions of IE on one Windows instance.  You have to have at least four instances these days.

So when setting up my new Mac I wanted to find a similar virtualized solution but one with less headache and cost.  Lo and behold I found details on OSX Daily at for a FREE solution (free as in beer, free as in speech) using Oracle’s VirtualBox that would give you a reasonable set of Windows/IE permutations in a virtualized environment and manage the installation process for you.  And it actually works.  Read the link above for all the details; I won’t rehash them here.

Now when Agency XYZ needs for you to ensure your CSS is compatible with IE6, you’ll have a cleaner way to fire up WinXP and IE6 without requiring all the extra overhead of a custom setup.  Now when E.B.E. Sector 7 reports that Special Agent Johnson is having some data issue due to an incompatible JavaScript problem in IE8 compatibility mode, you can fire up a virtualized instance of Vista/IE8 and troubleshoot.  Setup and teardown of the virtualized instances is as simple as launching an app.

And if you’re managing your code and configs in your Mac, you can do all this Windows activity in … gasp … just another window.  Toggling, or refocusing is just a trackpad-swipe away.

Note you’ll still be prompted to activate Windows when you log into it.  You can simply proceed each time with a fresh 30-day trial knowing that each time you tear down the environment, you’ll lose your settings and customizations, making fair use of the trial-based OS.  Or, if you have licenses from your older installations lying about the house, you can always fully unlock these instances as legitimately as your license terms warrant.  So long as you’re not tied to OEM or upgraded licenses, you should be OK to proceed.

I suspect for Mac-heads in the same government consulting boat as yours truly will enjoy finally having a simple way to get IE running without all the rigmarole of clunkier or costlier solutions.  Enjoy!