One Weird Trick to Make IE Testing Less Bad

Building a site can make you feel like a magician. Ethan shares a testing trick that will leave your crowds applauding.

The whole IE is a bad browser joke is getting a little old. It's the same joke as Comic Sans is a bad font or Jar Jar Binks is a bad character. We're all on the same page. It's universal opinion that these are bad things. Got it. Pointing this out or complaining isn't particularly useful for anything other than getting a cheap laugh from the "in crowd." Instead of reiterating what we already know, let's talk about how to make things less bad.

Bear with me while I paint a totally relatable picture. You've "finished" the "page" you've been working on, and now it's time to "make it work in old IE." You fire it up in IE7 and–BAM–it looks like butt. You always knew this moment was coming, and you're finally paying for it.

I hate to break it to you, but it's too late at this point.

The One Weird Trick

Test early; test often.

Try this next time you start a project: develop in your browser of choice, and old IE simultaneously. I'm on a Mac, so my favorite way to do this is by running a copy of Windows inside VirtualBox. I've installed the virtual machines using the ievms script by xdissent. The script will get you set up with IE versions 6 through 11. The images of Windows are provided for free, courtesy of Microsoft, for the purpose of website testing. Good on you, Microsoft.

Typically I'll expand my virtual machine full screen on its own desktop. This way I'm only a four-finger swipe away to see how things are looking in a less happy browser. The easier it is, the more likely I am to do it. By testing in IE frequently, you can fix your bugs before they snowball and turn into a compounded, unrecognizable mess.

Even if you don't have time to fix things as you go, you can at least take note of them. Notice that color: inherit isn't being respected? Log it. Now your layout is breaking due to a rounding error? Log it. When you see problems occurring one by one, you get a much better idea of how to fix them. You'll also have a much clearer idea of the technical debt that you're incurring. This saves you from overselling how far you are on a project.

Designers Hate Me

Accessible content is what's most important. Depending on your audience, old IE probably doesn't have to be beautiful—just accessible. If that's the case, old IE isn't nearly as bad as people make it out to be. If we go about it the right way, we can make it less bad.

No idea what to do about Comic Sans or Jar Jar, though.