Since rumours of Internet Explorer 10 first began to surface it became evident that there had been a culture change within Microsoft and in particular the Internet Explorer development team. IE10 was going to be a browser built as much for developers as it was users. Instead of focusing on underused proprietary features IE10 was going to adopt a standards approach and push the latest HTML and CSS developments; and largely it has done that.
This change has been welcomed in the development community and it marks something of a turnaround in fortunes for Internet Explorer.
Update: modern.ie now has a number of Virutal Machines to download which weren't available when this article was originally written.
It's because of this culture change that we now see the IE dev team launching things such as modern.IE; a site that works to help developers build websites that function in all browsers.
The biggest feature of modern.IE for us is the one not yet launched; Virtual Machines. We currently use Virtual Machines to test websites in older versions of Internet Explorer but they're a pain to setup and can be a little buggy. Also with IE10 soon coming to Windows 7 it's not been clear how our current approach will accommodate IE9 or if such a system is possible on Windows 8 if we choose to upgrade operating systems.
For us using Virtual Machines has always been the ideal way to test in older versions of IE, all other methods have developed issues that make them imperfect solutions. It's a shame that Microsoft hasn't launched the Virtual Machines section of modern.IE yet. But to offer 3 month accounts to BrowserStack for free in the meantime is a pleasant suprise.
Offering BrowserStack for free is clearly a bridging technique while they prepare the Virtual Machine solution but at least they are communicating clearly what they plan to do and what they can offer in the meantime.
modern.IE is certainly a great help to developers but unfortunately Microsoft and the IE dev team have yet to solve the underlying issue.
In most other browsers there is only one version; the latest version. The adoption of silent updates across other browsers means that most users are automatically upgraded when a new version of a browser becomes available.
The problem with IE is that they’ve yet to adopt a similar approach. They also don't deliver updates as regularly as the competition and most importantly they tie versions of IE to specific versions of the Windows operating system.
It's this last point that is the root of all the problems and why web developers have to test websites in up to 5 versions of Internet Explorer. Though we would love to get all IE6 users to upgrade to newer versions of IE it’s not possible without them first upgrading the operating system. This may sound simple but for many it’s not so simple for some to upgrade.
Just one more step
It's this desire in Microsoft to tie versions of Windows and Internet Explorer together that is the root cause of why we have to test websites in so many different versions of Internet Explorer.
What the IE dev team has done so far is a great step forward and will certainly please the development community but they need to take that one last step that brings IE on a par with its competition.
Only when they develop Internet Explorer to be independent of the operating system will they be able to focus of delivering great browsers rather than having to provide fixes for old mistakes. If they don't do this developers could still be moaning about old versions of Internet Explorer in another 5 years.