We got our first glimpses of the Firefox 4 interface months before the first beta even came out, but Internet Explorer 9 has remained comparatively shrouded in secrecy—even with four Platform Previews out and a public beta due in mid-September. The shroud might have finally (if accidentally) come off, however. ZDNet's Mary-Jo Foley nabbed a screenshot of what looks like the full IE9 interface from Microsoft's Russian website.
The screenshot looks pretty legit, down to the new, sky-blue logo in the taskbar. (You can see that logo now on the Platform Preview page.) Foley says the Microsoft Russia press site has since pulled the image, further hinting at its legitimacy... and suggesting Microsoft wasn't ready for the big reveal just yet.
Albeit blurry, the shot gives a pretty good glimpse at the likely IE9 UI. All the interface elements now sit on the same row: a big back button and a small forward button (a la Firefox), an address bar with embedded refresh and stop buttons, a tab area, and home, star, and gear icons. Foley says Microsoft has consolidated IE's different menus into a single one, just like Google is doing with Chrome 6. I assume that's what the gear button is for.
With a sleek user interface, full hardware acceleration out of the box, and decent standards compliance, IE9 could be a seriously tempting alternative to the latest Chrome, Firefox, and Opera releases. We'll just have to see if the public beta manages to match the competition in terms of raw rendering speed.