Not giving money to Microsoft

Last week I had a great email conversation with the San Diego Ruby Users Group (SDRuby).  I told them “I’m on a mac. I have parallels, but no windows license. I need to test stuff in IE and don’t want to buy Windows. I have absolutely no other reason to use Windows than occasionally testing stuff on IE, thus the full cost of a windows 7 license just isn’t justifiable.”

The response from the group was incredible. It was obvious that this is a pain point for many of us who have turned our backs on Ballmer.

I got seven suggestions. Here’s a breakdown of each followed by my conclusions:

1) Thiago suggested installing wine and then installing standalone IE or IETester.

HAH Results: I wish I could trust IE running on Wine, but I can’t. I got IE 7 working on my machine, and it was super unstable, and it looked very different as an app than it does on PCs. There could be some value in using it for initial testing, but then I feel like you’d have to still find a real PC and test again.

2) Nick mentioned, “Perhaps Litmus would suffice?”

HAH Results: Works great if things are mostly already working and you’re going for a huge set of browsers. It will show you screenshots of what pages look like on up to 24 different browsers. Unfortunately, it has no interactivity, so you can’t get to a dynamically created page, and you also can’t ‘play’ by tweaking html/css/javascript on a particular browser until it works.

3) Edward tossed out the idea of using some images Microsoft makes available with different versions of IE on each (

HAH Results: If you read the last couple of comments on the referenced blog, you’ll see that these are now encumbered with license requirements if you try and convert them from VPC to something that a Mac can run.

4) Guyren had a promising-looking suggestion called ie4osx (which appears now to be WineBottler) at

HAH Results: This is the wine solution in a nice binary installaion package for osx. Same problems as mentioned in number 1.

5) James came through with a fantastic option: Use an Amazon EC2 instance whenever you need it.

HAH Results: This is legit and it works. Great solution. Cost is about $0.12/hr. No problems there. It speaks directly to my complaint that it’s not worth a the full license cost of Windows for just one app every once in a while.

6) Thibaut said that those Microsoft VPC images might be runnable via VirtualBox. (VirtualBox is a free competitor to Parallels from SUn Microsystems.

HAH Results: Looks like a great way to avoid paying for a Parallels license. However, we run into the same problem with the Microsoft VPC issues discussed in number 3.

7) Finally Zach dug up a neat new product from Adobe called BrowserLab:

HAH Results: This offers the same core functionality as Litmus with a few extra bells and whistles. You still run into the issue of not being able to look deep into ajaxy sites and not being able to do real time ‘poking around’.

With all these great suggestions, I was surprised to find only three real options for my particular needs. Here are my conclusions:

  • Borrow someone’s PC for a while
  • Use Amazon to remote into a pc (to be fair there are probably a bunch of other remoting services)
  • Find someone that has an old copy of one of those VPCs that came from microsoft before they became license encumbered.

3 Responses to “Not giving money to Microsoft”

  1. kingkool68

    You can get a legit Windows XP license for $99 on Might be cheaper to buy a used computer off of Craigslist if all you need is a test machine.

  2. heekay

    this is really sad, when you look at all of the labor, research and time involved to avoid payment Microsoft, the end result is you have spent eons of your own intellectual power and time, and could have easily forked over a few dollars for a win 7 license. of course i may be mistaken because examining in this post how you think , reveals you may only be billable at about $10 per hour. i have invested tons of money in macs, and apple products, and never become so elite and prejudiced against microsoft to the point of not buying a product if needed, even occassionally. again this colloasal waste of brain power on a solution to avoid buying a windows copy is a real comedy, i mean really, you shelled out big bucks for your macbook, etc, the microsoft purchase would have been the cheapest of the day for you.

    • Jon Christensen

      Thanks for this comment! This is the first near flame we have received and I’m a little touched.

      You get more than $10/hour? Do you have any extra work? LOL!

      On the serious side, the research I did was time consuming, and you’re right that the opportunity cost probably could have paid for a windows license. I also agree that Apple products are quite expensive, and I’ve often looked for ways of avoiding giving money to Apple too. I’m not an Apple fanboy. But I have become a bit of a Microsoft hater because I see the lack of vision and direction across the silos of their company is causing them to create inferior products.

      One interesting anecdote on where the money goes when you pay Apple the big bucks is this: I recently got my MacBook Pro replaced post-warrantee even though it was my own fault that I spilled coffee in the keyboard. I’m pretty sure dell wouldn’t do that.

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