If you're running Windows 7, you might also like to look at Browser Testing With Windows 7 XP Mode.

I've never been a fan of "multiple IE" and "multiple Firefox" hacks, since my experience has always been they're not quite the same as having the different versions installed on different machines. Most of the time they're fine, but sooner or later one of those funny little bugs will bite you.

PeteL's Blog : Running Multiple Versions Of IE On The Same Box digs a bit further into potential issues with "frankenbuild" solutions (great term :)).

So anyway, for a while now I've used the free Virtual PC setup that Microsoft gives away for testing purposes. They're full systems, so you can be confident that they're "real" installs - and of course you can run other browsers on them too. Currently I run a test image with IE6 and FF2.

Here are a few quick tips about Virtual PC that I've learned along the way...

Where to download it:

Setting it up:

  • The free test images are all time-bombed to an irritatingly short period of time. So, don't invest too much time setting them up.
  • I usually name the machine something like "IE6 to the end of April 09" to remind myself which image it is and how long it'll keep working.
  • I've found Virtual PC images seem to run a little better if you double the "recommended" RAM to 256megs. YMMV.
  • The test images given out by Microsoft will generally have no Flash or an old version installed (usually v6). So you probably want to upgrade Flash immediately unless you are specifically wanting to test old Flash versions.
  • Virtual PC unable to connect to the web? Try setting it to use a shared connection (NAT). Right-click the network icon at the bottom of the Virtual PC  window, and hit "network settings" in the network panel. NAT will be an option in the adapters dropdown.
  • If you have restricted access your main machine's localhost, remember that the Virtual PC should be treated liked a physically separate machine (with its own IP) and you'll need to update your settings accordingly.

Using it:

  • Don't forget, you will need to hit the main machine by IP address to view any localhost/test server that you're running on it.
  • Alternatively you can access files directly on your main machine by adding a shared folder (right-click the folder icon at the bottom left of Virtual PC window, then click Add Folder). The folder will show up as a drive on the virtual machine.
  • Sick of using the mouse to get out of the Virtual PC window? Hit right-alt+L to minimise it, then you can alt-tab as normal. Right-alt is the default "host key" which has a bunch of other shortcuts as well.
  • You can drag and drop, copy and paste etc between the host system and the virtual PC. I was used to a VMWare environment where you couldn't do that, so I originally assumed you couldn't do that in VPC - but you can.

I hope those tips are useful. Happy testing...