Is This Internet Explorer 9?

A Microsoft Russia site promoting the launch of Internet Explorer 9 (coming September 15) may have dropped a screenshot by accident. There it is; sorry it’s not bigger. But you can get a general idea of the changes that have occurred.

Before anything else, it should be noted that the image on Bing, according to commenters at CNET, was used back in December of 2009. So if this screenshot was “live,” then this is from a six-month-old build of IE9. Of course, Microsoft has a habit of locking down its products several months before launch so marketers have a fixed feature set with which to work, so it’s possible that this IE9 is more than some pre-alpha.

So what’s new? Well, the tabs are placed in a truly unfortunate position to the right of a new combined search/address bar, and the home/favorites/mystery buttons are all the way over to the right. I’m afraid it’s a bit of a confusing strip of UI, what with round buttons, square buttons, non-button buttons, and, incredibly, separate stop/reload buttons instead of integrated.

A new look and a new engine may make IE9 the best IE yet, but they’re lagging so far behind Firefox and Chrome (which is likely to expand significantly in coming months with Chrome OS) that I imagine the team is pretty dispirited. Here’s Mozilla offering nightly builds of the new beta Firefox, trying out entirely new features with little fanfare, and here’s Microsoft planning a big launch for features we’ve had in other browsers for months or years.

Well, there’s nothing for it but to wait and see.