ZDNet’s Mary Jo Foley thinks she stumbled upon the user interface for Internet Explorer 9, spying a screenshot on Microsoft Russia’s press website. If this is the real deal, the next IE will look like the lovechild of Google Chrome and Firefox 4.
From Firefox 4, IE9 reportedly takes the oversized back button, translucent window and tremendous amount of wasted space above the navigation bar (seriously, it’s just an empty row with window management at the end, and the next Firefox is just as guilty). From Chrome, IE9 may derive the omnibar for search and URLs, and a series of menu icons on the right side of the screen.
Already, Firefox 4 and Chrome aren’t much different. Mozilla’s upcoming browser raises tabs above the address bar, just like Chrome, and consolidates the old menu bar into a single button that rests to the right of the search box. IE9′s biggest supposed difference from these two browsers is the placement of tabs next to, instead of above, the address bar. The overall trend is the same: Chrome, Firefox and IE are cutting out the sprawl of menu items, bookmarks and extensions in favor of more vertical space for the Web itself.
Overall, this pleases me. Compared to actually browsing the web, I spend a miniscule amount of time organizing bookmarks, formatting page styles, viewing pages in code, looking at my browser history or doing anything else that’s made easier by expansive menu bars and buttons. But as browsers consolidate the amount of space not dedicated to the web itself, there’s a limit to how different they can be.
User interface similarity is part of a broader homogenization of web browsers, but I strongly believe that look and feel are a browser’s most defining characteristics. As all browsers approach the perfect interface, they get harder and harder to tell apart.