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Powerful Firefox feature will become ubiquitous

April 3, 2009 |  1:55 pm

Taskfox

Getting the weather with a few keystrokes, using Ubiquity for Firefox. Credit: Mozilla

Firefox developer Mozilla is planning to make Ubiquity a lot more ubiquitous.

The company quietly announced plans last week to build features from the Swiss-Army-like browser extension into Firefox itself, so users can do things such as search websites, insert interactive maps into e-mails or update Twitter, all with a few keystrokes. The native features are being called Taskfox.

More than 200,000 people have installed (and actively use) Ubiquity since it was released in August, and hundreds of developers have contributed new features -- like the ability to quickly submit a site to most social networks or search just about any site -- that users can choose to install on top of the program, according to a post by Blair McBride on his blog.

Mozilla says the goal of Ubiquity is to let you "talk to your browser." So eventually it should recognize "Translate this page into English," "Translate to English," and "What would this website look like in English?" all as the same command.

The extension borrows from the command line approach -- the home court for programmers. That's a shortcut language that's entirely text-based, in which a user first enters an action (like search) followed by any modifiers. Quicksilver, a super-powered application launcher and system interface for the Mac, similar to Ubiquity, has revived command line computing, but its audience is still niche.

Because Firefox is available in more than 60 languages, accomplishing the goal of "talking to your browser" is a grand undertaking. Taskfox is a way to more immediately bring some of those features to a wider audience.

Mozilla hopes to make it more accessible by building a simpler version into the default Firefox software package. How exactly the tentatively titled Taskfox accomplishes that is anyone's guess, since the feature is still early in development. But Mozilla designer Alex Faaborg provides a few mockups showing how the features could be integrated into the location bar, search box or as an overlay.

In one mockup, pictured above, you'd type a few letters of an action, like "shop for" or "search Wikipedia." Then when you hit the space bar, you're prompted to enter the next input -- be it what to shop for or what encyclopedia article to pull up.

Taskfox probably won't make its way into a milestone build of Firefox for quite a while, Ubiquity developers said. But to get a feel for some of the features, you can find the Ubiquity extension on Mozilla Labs. Mozilla says it plans to have test versions of Taskfox out before the end of the summer.

-- Mark Milian

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