HOW TO: Install IE6 on Vista/Windows 7

UPDATE 29 Jan 2009 | the method described below still works — but there’s now an alternate method suitable for web developers simply wanting to test their sites in IE6. Check out IETester which allows you to install a standalone web browser in Vista or Windows 7 that allows you to view sites rendered using the IE6 rendering engine. It’s not exactly a functional standalone version of IE6 though so if you are looking for that use the method below. 

Got a work intranet application that works fine in IE6 but doesn’t like IE7? Amazingly Microsoft has provided a way to install the non-Vista-compatible IE6 on Vista and Windows 7. Well maybe not quite but near enough…

Internet Explorer 7 has been out for quite a while now yet there are still plenty of sites out there that can’t cope with it and demand that users connect using IE6. Unfortunately most people (certainly the vast majority of home users) are running IE7 — or even IE8 beta — having received it as part of a Windows XP update or they’re running Windows Vista or Windows 7 which uses IE7 or IE8 respectively by default.

If you’re running Windows XP you can roll back to IE6 but this seems rather a shame to do. If you’re running Windows Vista there’s no rollback option since IE6 was never released for Vista.

What you can do instead is make use of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer Application Compatibility VPC Image. These are two virtual PC hard drive images (downloadable here) which contain a full pre-activated copy of Windows XP SP2 – one contains IE6 and the other IE7. The idea is to make users able to test either application and to this end each image contains the IE7 Readiness Toolkit the Script Debugger and the IE Developer Toolbar.

Free free free: a pre-activated copy of Windows XP SP2 in a downloadable virtual machine complete with IE6.

The individual downloads are fairly chunky (443MB and 491MB respectively) and expand out to 1.48GB and 1.58GB VHD files. To use the files you need to install Virtual PC 2007 create a new machine using the default settings and then go into each virtual machine and point the hard drive to the VHD file you just downloaded. Make sure the other settings are correct (especially networking) and then start the machines from the console.

The Virtual PC 2007 console: showing the IE6 virtual machine

And the IE7 virtual machine: for those sado-masochists who are sticking with IE6 but want to dabble in IE7.

The VHD files don’t have an unlimited life – they expire periodically but Microsoft keeps reissuing them. Unfortunately that means you have to download them repeatedly to keep them working.