I went to use Firefox the other day after months of loyal Chrome use, and I was astounded – what had formerly been my favorite browser suddenly felt like it was getting in the way, with multiple bars of menus and icons. It was eating up all of my precious screen real estate. It made me realize that, in many ways, the modern browser is working harder and harder to do more, while getting out of the way of the user’s experience of the Web.

Today, Microsoft is releasing the latest beta version of Internet Explorer 9 and it looks like they got one big thing right – the browser has slimmed down, got a new wardrobe and stepped out of the way.

Before now, the browser had always been very central in the user’s experience of the Web. You never really felt like you were very far from complicated Web settings; you never stepped out of the browser to really become immersed in the Web. The latest beta of IE9 shows that Microsoft is ready to step out of the way a bit and allow just that.

Photo Credit: Fast Company

As Austin Carr writes for Fast Company, one way that IE9 does this is by bringing apps to Windows 7. “What are apps, other than tiny colorful icons that provide rich, interactive experiences on mobile devices?” he asks, noting that “They don’t feel like an installed program – they’re much less clunky – nor a website, which is anything but native.”

IE9 does this by allowing users to “pin” sites to the edge of the screen. Their most commonly-used websites become their own icons, in much the same bookmarked sites can be made into icons on an iPhone. IE9 also introduces “tear off tabs”, a familiar feature for Chrome users, that allows users to grab a tab and separate it into its own window.

Beyond creating an “app-mosphere” of sorts, the other thing about the new IE9 that allows it to get out of the way of the Web is the clean, simple design. From the first looks of everything we’re seeing today, the screenshots “leaked” last month were indeed real and we’re excited for the new look.

With features like full HTML5 support and hardware graphics acceleration, Microsoft has promised a browser that will present the “beauty of the Web” and, as long as it can manage not to trip over its own feet, it looks like it might do just that.