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Because a large portion of end user machines attached to the Internet are Windows machines, Web developers have no choice but to develop Web applications that, while they don't necessarily rely on Microsoft technology, do have to work properly with Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser. That usually means developers require a Windows installation at their disposal. Those of us who run Linux on our home machines have a harder time testing sites for Internet Explorer compatibility, or accessing sites that require proprietary IE features. IEs4Linux is a script that can help you set up three older versions of IE on any system running Wine. Unfortunately, the program is not as polished as it should be.
Requirements are low, and consist of the latest version of Wine and cabextract and an Internet connection, preferably high speed. Once Wine and cabextract are installed, download the IEs4Linux tar file and extract the contents, then switch to the directory that contains the executable and run it.
This is where the first indication of a lack of polish becomes apparent. If IEs4Linux is run from the command line and your Wine installation is a 1.x release, a message appears that states that Wine is out of date -- meaning not a 0.9.x version -- and that it should be updated for proper operation. This isn't a problem, and the program doesn't quit at this point.
The main screen of the program is straightforward. First, select the versions of the browser that you would like to install -- IE5, 5.5, or 6, but not the current IE7, even though it was released almost two years ago. Choose whether to install Flash 9, specify where you want the icons for the program installed, and click OK. For most people the defaults are acceptable. If there are no errors in the IE installation files and dependencies that IEs4Linux downloads, the program should leave you with a working installation of the Internet Explorer versions of your choice. Those very few steps brought me to a working installation of Internet Explorer 6.0.
On my test machine, an old Dell laptop, IE6 ran fine, with the exception of Flash. The program tried to download Flash from macromedia.com instead of adobe.com, despite the fact that Flash has been an Adobe technology since 2005, and that IEs4Linux refers to Flash as Adobe Flash on its main page. As the program did not error out at this point, I assumed that the installation worked, but when I tried to access a Web site that used Flash, IE6 didn't recognize that Flash was installed. When I tried to install it through the browser, I was again met with failure.
The download process is sloppy too. While downloading IE, if there is any kind of a hiccup in your Internet connection, the download terminates. The program does not try to reestablish the download, it just stops, and the only option left is to quit the program. On the plus side, when you rerun the program, if the settings are duplicated from the previous installation attempt, the files that were downloaded successfully are not downloaded again.
On IEs4Linux's main page there is a button that brings up advanced options such as the path for the installation, the location of the bin folder, where the aforementioned IE installation files will be saved, flags for wget, and, for those who want IE7, an option to attempt to install it. One minor irritation is the default for IE to be installed in the hidden folder .ies4linux instead of the default .wine, but it turns out this is not a design flaw. Installing IE in Wine creates, as the Wine Application Database puts it, "a big mess." The Wine developers actually recommend that you don't install IE at all and strongly recommend IEs4Linux if you insist on doing so. If you do install it, either by hand or with IEs4Linux, they strongly recommend that you install it in a different directory, which the defaults in IEs4Linux accomplish. Still, some indication of the defaults and the reason for the different directory would be nice.
I never was able to get IE7 to work. When I tried to run it, a window did display, but nothing was ever rendered in it. Even after letting it run for several minutes, nothing happened. Given that IEs4Linux is just a program for downloading and installing IE, this failure falls in the purview of Wine. Indeed, a check of the Wine Application Database confirms this and shows that the only known working platform for IE7 is Ubuntu 8.04 Hardy x86_64. I can't determine to what extent IE7 runs in this context, as the only criteria that the Wine app database requires is an application installs and runs, with no indication as what "run" means.
However, IE7 may not be a must-have for most non-Web-developers, as a quick search of Google shows that there were more problems with IE7 breaking Web sites than there are Web sites that require it. If you are a Web developer, lack of IE7 support is probably a deal-breaker, but if you are a casual Web surfer who just wants to be able to access IE-only sites, IE6 is still a capable browser and is supported on XP SP2 until 2010.
For all of its lack of attention to detail, IEs4Linux simplifies the complicated process of installing IE in Linux. While the problems with its user interface are annoying, the program is stable and does the required job. However, given that the Wine project developers discourage installing IE on Linux, and given that virtualization technology is becoming easier and cheaper to implement, IEs4Linux may be becoming increasingly irrelevant. Your reasons for installing and running IE on Linux would have to be pretty compelling before I could recommend using it. A better approach would be to upgrade your computer's memory, install an open source virtualization product such as KVM or Xen, and run Windows XP and IE in that context. In that setting, IE will run better and faster and be more stable than IE under Wine.
David Pendell has been working with computers for the last 23 years in a variety of capacities, including for programming and audio and video processing. He has been using Linux since Red Hat 5.1 and has used a variety of distros.