All posts tagged ‘ubiquity’

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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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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