File Under: Browsers, Software, UI/UX

Ubiquity Alternatives Offer Power Users Command-Line Tools for the Web

Those of you itching for a simple command-line interface to control your favorite web apps now have several different choices.

Last week, we told you that Mozilla Labs had put Ubiquity on the back burner. Mozilla’s Ubiquity project for Firefox promises to eventually bring the power of the command line into your web browser, enabling you to perform specific tasks — like e-mail a link to a Gmail contact, post a tweet, check the weather or pinpoint something on a map — all with just a few keystrokes. Ubiquity showed promise, but Mozilla has decided it needs to focus on other projects, which unfortunately means Ubiquity currently doesn’t work with the newly released Firefox 3.6.

Luckily, Ubiquity is not an entirely new idea. There have been quite a few attempts to create powerful, command-line interfaces for interacting with the web. Here are some tools you can explore while Ubiquity is laying low.

One of the newest command-line-style tools is Quix, a JavaScript bookmarklet that offers keyboard-based access to text commands. You can use Quix to shorten URLs on the fly, post messages to Facebook, search Flickr photos and loads more, all without lifting your fingers from the keyboard.

Quix is like any other JavaScript bookmarklet you’ve used, you simply drag the provided button to your bookmarks toolbar and then click it. Keyboard junkies can assign a shortcut to the bookmarklet and bring up the Quix dialog without using the mouse (Quix has instructions on how to set that up in each supported browser).

Once the Quix window is activated you can type any number of commands — see the Quix site for a complete list of what’s available — or extend Quix by writing your own commands. The Quix command syntax is borrowed from Shaun Inman’s Shortwave, a similar command-based JavaScript bookmarklet.

While Shortwave doesn’t offer as many commands out of the box as Quix does, it is extendable, so you can always write your own. Even if you don’t extend it, Shortwave makes a good, lightweight option.

Yubnub is another command-line-style option for power users looking for an Ubiquity alternative. Yubnub is quite a bit older than Quix and consequently already has a loyal following of users — some 22,000 commands have already been written.

Like Quix, Yubnub works in just about any web browser and the thriving hacker community that’s grown up around it have managed to integrate Yubnub tools into Mac OS X, a Python library and even the Sony PSP.

While all three of these bookmarklet tools cover some aspects of Ubiquity, none of them can match Ubiquity’s integration with Firefox, nor do they cover all the tasks Ubiquity can handle. On the plus side, if you use multiple browsers, you might be better off with Quix, Shortwave or Yubnub since they will work anywhere.

And we’ll be sure to let you know when Ubiquity moves back into the spotlight at Mozilla Labs.

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