How to test your website with Internet Explorer on a Mac

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Web development can be a complicated business. We now live in a world where a responsive website is absolutely essential. Not only that, but it needs to look good and function correctly across a multitude of devices including everything from smartphones to televisions. This means that a successful website must stay true to the original specifications regardless of browser, device or display size.

In a perfect world, all Web browsers would interpret your site in terms of CSS, HTML and Javascript in exactly the same way, guaranteeing consistency across the board. Unfortunately, it's not that easy. Most browsers have their own Web page rendering engines, and while these aim to follow the Web rendering standards, there's always slight difference. For us Web developers this means testing a website across all modern browsers to ensure that the CSS, HTML and Javascript are rendered appropriately.

So, what do I do if I'm using a Mac?

Testing across all browsers can be especially tricky for developers using Macs, even more so when it comes to testing a website on Microsoft's Internet Explorer (IE). While it happens to be a market-leading browser, IE is not available as an installable application for Mac OS X. There was once a time when IE was the Mac's default browser; when Safari wasn't yet an option. But now most leading tech companies have homegrown browser technologies. As for Microsoft, it has a significant IE user base at an enterprise level. Additionally, more and more successful consumer products are gaining market share from the Surface Pro to Windows phones, which makes it vital to test your work on IE.

The obvious solution is to test on a Windows machine, but this isn't always practical, especially if you're heavily invested in the OS X ecosystem. The good news is that Microsoft offers a simpler solution through the power of its cloud ecosystem: under its modern.ie website, the company has a new Web development tool called RemoteIE.

How does RemoteIE work?

RemoteIE allows you to use a virtual machine, which sits in the Microsoft cloud, to run Internet Explorer locally using a remote desktop application. The end result is that you have the IE window running on your Mac OS X like a native app window, which allows you to browse to the Web server running your website. You can then test your website in IE to make sure it's ready for the masses. Microsoft has made the process of connecting to the cloud-based virtual machine a cinch by providing a connection method called Microsoft RemoteApp in its Mac OS X Microsoft Remote Desktop app, which can be found in the Mac app store.

OK, just tell me how I can run Internet Explorer on a Mac OS X.

Getting IE up and running on your Mac OS X is easier than you're probably thinking. Go ahead, take a deep breath and follow this list of steps to get started:

  1. Use your browser navigate to www.modern.ie.
  2. Select RemoteIE from the tools menu.
  3. Follow the prompt to sign in with your Microsoft account.
  4. Follow the prompt to enter your location. Once you have selected your location, it will begin processing your request for RemoteIE access.
  5. Download and install Microsoft Remote Desktop for Mac OS X from the Mac app store. Once installed, open Microsoft Remote desktop and then select the RemoteApp option from the toolbar. Sign in using your Microsoft account.
  6. Select Internet Explorer as a RemoteApp (this will only work if your request for RemoteIE has been processed). After selecting Internet Explorer as a RemoteApp, close the RemoteApp window and you should now see Internet Explorer as an option within the Remote Desktop app.
  7. Select Internet Explorer from the RemoteApp list within the Microsoft Remote desktop app and you should be ready to run Internet Explorer on your machine.

Now what?

Once IE is up and running it behaves like a native Mac OS X app, from which you can even drag individual tabs to create new windows. The complexity of a virtual machine running Windows behind the scenes in the Microsoft cloud is all invisible, thanks to the clever Microsoft RemoteApp only exposing IE. IE developer tools are also available using F12, which offers the ability to fully debug and test your website. You can even re-size the IE window like any other Mac OS X app, allowing you to test how responsive your website is for displays of different sizes.

Microsoft Remote Desktop and its RemoteApp functionality are also available on iOS devices including the iPhone and iPad. Additionally, Microsoft automatically updates IE, so you know you're always testing with the latest version. Oh, and get this: Microsoft RemoteApp Internet Explorer is free. (Note: RemoteIE as a service is currently available as a preview.)

Is there anything I can't do with the RemoteApp?

The only current limitation is the inability to access your local file system or internal Web servers that aren't accessible via the Internet. But don't let this hinder your testing. For internal websites, making the site temporarily accessible over the Internet may be a solution, so long as security has been considered.

Microsoft also offers a number of downloadable virtual machines that run various versions of Windows and IE, giving you the ability to test your website using any version from IE 6 to the most current. You will need virtual machine software like VirtualBox, VMware or Parallels to run these virtual machines on your Mac OS X.

Bottom line

Web development can be especially tricky when using a Mac, but thanks to tools like Microsoft's RemoteIE, it's becoming less of a headache. Microsoft already has everything you need to ensure your websites and Web apps can be tested across all active IE versions -- so go ahead, get to work.

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Contributor

Rag Dhiman

has over a decade’s experience of working with clients to develop solid solutions to their problems. With a Microsoft and iOS background, he specialises in a range of technologies including XCode, Objective-C, OS X, Windows, HTML5, JavaScript, CSS, C#, .NET and SQL Server. Rag enjoys problem solving using up to date technologies; his current interests include the iOS Sprite Kit and the new iOS framework. He has developed multiple apps for mobile devices. In his spare time Rag likes to develop his photography skills and he is a petrol head who particularly enjoys motor car racing.