File Under: Browsers, Software, UI/UX

Mozilla Puts Ubiquity on Hold

Faithful users of Mozilla’s Ubiquity add-on for Firefox found the extension broken when they updated to the latest version of Firefox, which was released Thursday.

You read that right, Mozilla’s own add-on hasn’t been updated to work with Firefox 3.6. In fact, Ubiquity, an innovative add-on that allows you to interact with maps, Twitter, YouTube and other web services through a command line interface, hasn’t seen an update since the summer of 2009. You’d be forgiven for thinking Mozilla has abandoned it.

As it turns out, you’d actually be right, Mozilla has abandoned Ubiquity — but not forever, just for now.

Jonathan DiCarlo, who works at Mozilla Labs, recently posted an update letting the Mozilla community know that Ubiquity is on hold. The reason, according to DiCarlo is that Mozilla labs had too many projects going and, “Ubiquity was one of the things that was put onto the back burner in order to focus better on Weave, Jetpack, Bespin, and other core projects.”

Mozilla’s current roadmap calls for both Weave and JetPack to graduate out of Labs and into Firefox proper, which is likely why the company has chosen to focus its efforts there rather than on Ubiquity.

Which isn’t to say that Ubiquity will never make it into Firefox. Aza Raskin, Head of User Experience for Mozilla Labs, at one point showed off a mockup of one way that some elements of Ubiquity might make it into Firefox. The demo was dubbed Taskfox, and frankly it looked awesome, but so far there is no timeline for when — or if — it will ever become a part of Firefox itself.

Even if Ubiquity never moves beyond Mozilla Labs, Mozilla, for its part seems to have a pretty clear idea about what works in Ubiquity, what doesn’t, and where it can be improved. In fact, DiCarlo has a second Ubiquity post running down everything Mozilla has learned from Ubiquity.

The rather lengthy post is notable for addressing what we found to be the chief shortcoming of Ubiquity — the lack of commands. Mozilla essentially created the frame work and left the work of creating actual, useful commands up to users.

As DiCarlo admits, “we might have been putting the cart before the horse… it’s not the system that is valuable to users, it’s the individual commands, and the time they can save.”

The good news for those of you relying on Ubiquity is that, while Mozilla may be taking a break to finish up Weave and JetPack, the Ubiquity community is still thriving. The mailing list reveals bugs are being fixed and users remain enthusiastic about the project.

If you’d like to update to Firefox 3.6 and want Ubiquity to keep working, you can disable process where the browser checks add-ons for compatibility (go into about:config, search for extensions.checkCompatibility and toggle the option). Keep in mind that doing so may cause problems with Firefox.

Hopefully, even though Ubiquity may be on the back burner, Mozilla will eventually at least release an update that works with Firefox 3.6.

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