Those of us who do web development face a daunting task. Even with well defined web standards, every browser implementation has differing levels of compliance, bugs, and differences in interpretation that can make a site that looks great in one browser look awful, or even non-functional in another.
Then there’s Microsoft. Despite being a party to the development of many of these standards, they’re notorious for going their own way and for ignoring standards when it doesn’t suit them. The problem is that Internet Explorer is by far the most installed browser out there, so web site developers are left to accommodate their errors and arrogance.
This problem is made worse by their goofy “the browser is an integral part of the operating system” claim, which any capable systems developer could (correctly) read as “our OS design is weak”. Obviously, it isn’t possible to run two versions of anything that’s so “integral” to the OS. So when IE7 installs, the previous version gets replaced. This makes it a bit difficult to test that your site successfully employs all the hacks and kludges required to make a site render correctly under IE6 while successfully implementing a different set of hacks for IE7 (pity the poor developer who also needs to support IE5)! I suppose it’s possible to maintain multiple installations of Windows and use something like VMWare to flip between them, but that’s a little like using an atomic weapon to deal with a cockroach infection — overkill in the extreme that does more damage than good.
There is a free (but somewhat imperfect) solution to this. Multiple IE takes advantage of a completely different set of Microsoft hacks designed to circumnavigate another aspect of their poor OS design (namely DLL hell) to support simultaneous installation of multiple versions of Internet Explorer. It works by pointing the OS to versions of DLL files that match the IE version at start-up. Unfortunately, it either doesn’t catch all of them or there’s a “DLL chain” that makes it difficult to modify options settings without a crash, but if all you want to do is make sure your pages look right and work well, it does a fine job. It sure beats trying to maintain multiple installs of the OS. Now it’s possible to make sure your site works adequately under any version of IE available for download, which means as far back as IE3 (and if you need to support IE3, you have my sympathies).