Microsoft has released four 'platform previews' of Internet Explorer 9 over the last few months to highlight and test some of the browser's underlying improvements over its predecessor. We've gotten a taste of the new JavaScript engine, code-named Chakra, and new standards support, but thus far the look and feel of IE9 has been kept under wraps. That was supposed to change with the first public beta coming out in three weeks, but maybe we won't have to wait that long.

The image below was posted on Microsoft Russia's press website along with some information on Internet Explorer 9. Although it has since been pulled down, the screenshot is already doing the rounds on multiple sites, and Neowin claims to have confirmed it's the real thing through sources familiar with Microsoft's plans.

Following the current trend being embraced by browsers like Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox 4, the screenshot shows a minimalistic user interface that leaves as much room as possible to render websites. Most notable are the absence of webpages' title in the window title bar, and the multiple menu items of the Internet Explorer 8 toolbar which appear to have been replaced by home, favorites and settings buttons in the top right-hand corner of the window.

Furthermore, the tabs, navigation buttons and a combined URL - search box have all been condensed into a single row, which makes things look a bit cramped. The site also reportedly mentioned the introduction of tear-off tabs, which allow users to easily open a tabbed website in a new window, and a feature that will apparently treat "recognized" or "protected" sites as traditional Windows applications that can be moved to the taskbar to be opened independently.

No release date has been announced for the final code, but it's likely that won't arrive until 2011 so the interface might still see a few changes. In the meantime, what do you think of the direction Microsoft is taking with IE9's looks?