In a posting to the Internet Explorer (IE) blog, Microsoft general manager Dean Hachamovitch yesterday provided the first real bit of public information about IE 8, the company's next Web browser. Microsoft has been criticized lately for remaining mute about the release after pledging during the lengthy development of IE 7 that it would be more transparent.

"For IE 8, we want to communicate facts, not aspirations," Hachamovitch says. "We're posting this information now because we have real working code checked in and we're confident about delivering it in the final product. We're listening to the feedback about IE, and at the same time, we are committed to responsible disclosure and setting expectations properly."

Hachamovitch wrote that an internal build of IE 8 recently passed the so-called "Acid2 Face" rendering test, considered a key milestone for those concerned with standards compliance. This will cheer Web developers, but Hachamovitch also pointed out that a key goal of IE 8, as with IE 7, is that the browser doesn't "break the existing Web." As always, Microsoft is more backwards concerned with compatibility than whizz-bang features.

That said, Hachamovitch's posting was a not-so-veiled two-pronged attack, one on critics of the company's silence, and one on Opera, the niche browser maker that recently launched an antitrust suit against Microsoft. In its complaint, Opera said that the EU should force Microsoft to make IE more standards-compliant. So it should come as no surprise that Microsoft's first public revelation about IE 8 was that it had passed a key standards compliance test.

While Microsoft has been uncharacteristically quiet about IE 8, I can tell you that I've seen recent internal mockups of the browser, which reveal a few interesting design changes. As with Office 2007, IE 8 will use a single main menu button in the upper left corner, along with a Quick Access Toolbar in the "outspace" area to the right of this button. And responding to criticisms of IE 7's non-customizable and non-standard toolbar layout, Microsoft has removed the IE 7 Command Bar and returned all toolbar buttons to the main toolbar where they belong. Microsoft had briefly toyed with an Office 2007-style "Ribbon" user interface, but dropped that idea when it tested unfavorably.

I blogged about the new IE 8 user interface back in late October. This post includes a mockup of the then-current IE 8 design.