Testing a website with multiple Internet Explorer versions can be frustrating. Because IE is bound to the underlying OS you cannot install multiple IE versions side by side (which can be done with some other browsers), so you need other solutions.
IETester is a free tool which can simulate different IE versions in a single application. Although it supports Windows 8 and IE10 in desktop mode, it couldn’t reach the 1.0 version in years, and has some serious limitations.
The Expression SuperPreview was a good start from Microsoft to provide browser version comparison in a single app, but unfortunately the company stopped its development.
The Internet Explorer Developer Toolbar changes significantly. In IE11, which you can get with Windows 8.1, you find brand new F12 DevTools with new design and enhanced functionality, but unfortunately some features are missing from the compatibility tools. In previous versions – up to IE10 – there is a nice feature in the Dev Toolbar which you can use to change the Browser Mode:
This looks nice and fine however there are some practical problems with it. First you can see a Document Mode selector next to it with similar options:
The difference between the two options is very important however it is not easy to find out what it is. If you don’t know, I strongly recommend reading the Testing Sites with Browser Mode vs. Doc Mode article from the IEBlog.
Another problem with the Browser Mode switch is that it not absolutely perfect. Although you can find most compatibility issues with it, I have seen several bugs and issues that were not spotted by using this switch but revealed only when the page was tested with IE8. To cut the long story short, the Browser Mode switch is not reliable.
Because of all these issues, the IE team decided to remove the Browser Mode switch from the new DevTools. This is how the Emulation tab looks in IE11:
As you can see there are some nice new features: you can switch between a Desktop and Windows Phone profile, you can preset not only the resolution but also the orientation, and you can emulate a GPS position as well. Regarding to the browser versions, there is a User Agent string liar option, and there is also a Document Mode switch (which can be Edge or Default), but you cannot switch to a previous browser version.
So what is the solution?
1. Microsoft partnered with the people at BrowserStack and offers 3 months free access to BrowserStack services. This offer is valid before January 10, 2014.
2. You can download a set of virtual machines. Just select your host operating system and virtualization platform and you can instantly download free Windows virtual machines preconfigured with the specified IE version:
According to the current Microsoft view – which matches the state-of-art – using virtual machines (on your machine or in the cloud) is the most reliable solution to test your web application in previous IE versions. And now you have instant access to these VMs.
Regarding to the next versions of IE, the recommendation is to follow the web standards. A good start can be Rey Bango and Dave Methvin’s 20 tips for building modern websites while supporting old versions of IE article.