Mozilla has released the first version of an experimental extension to its Firefox browser that lets people substitute simple text commands for complex web tasks such as putting links to maps in emails.
Mozilla Labs' new Ubiquity tool is related to software called Enso that was developed at a small Chicago company called Humanized. Mozilla hired three executives of Humanized in January, and Aza Raskin, the former president of that company, introduced Ubiquity 0.1 in a Mozilla Labs blog entry on Tuesday. Raskin is now head of user experience at Mozilla Labs.
Ubiquity is designed to help ordinary people create something like mashups and to do it on a personal basis instead of in the form of a public web page. The commands that users type in Ubiquity, such as 'map' and 'email', find resources on the web and can gather information from those sources in one place.
For example, someone inviting a friend to dinner could highlight the name of the restaurant, type 'map', and instantly call up a Google Map showing the location of the restaurant. The user could then edit that map and place it in the body of the email message. Similarly, typing 'yelp' and the name of the restaurant would bring the text of reviews from Yelp.com right into the message.
In an interview, Raskin compared it to a search engine, except that Ubiquity users type in what they want to do instead of what they want to find.
Other commands that are already available include 'defi', which brings up a definition for a highlighted word; 'trans', which translates any highlighted text; and 'twit', which takes the highlighted text and puts it up on Twitter.
It's easy to create new commands, so average users can do it without advanced web development skills, according to Raskin.
"You don't have to wait for a developer to think of a user case. ... You can do it for yourself," Raskin said.
Users who created commands for Ubiquity can post them on the web and allow others to subscribe to them for free.
Ubiquity may or may not be added as an extension to Firefox. Mozilla Labs is designed to be an open test environment for new ideas, with participation by anyone, in which some ideas will graduate to use in Firefox and others won't, Raskin said.
Additional reporting by Elizabeth Montalbano in New York.