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Mozilla The Internet GUI Software

Mozilla Labs' "Ubiquity" Helps Automate Web Interactions 97

Posted by timothy
from the a-few-seconds-times-several-million-users dept.
Martin writes "Mozilla Labs have released a prototype version of the Firefox add-on Ubiquity. It is basically Launchy (the application launcher) for Firefox with the difference that Ubiquity makes use of web APIs and the Firefox browser. The official website contains examples, a command list, information about creating your own commands and of course the Ubiquity extension that is compatible with Firefox 3.x. Ubiquity can pull and send data to various services like Twitter, display, find and embed Google Maps, perform searches, write emails, add entries to the calendar, digg stories and more."
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Mozilla Labs' "Ubiquity" Helps Automate Web Interactions

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  • Familiar name (Score:5, Informative)

    by martinw89 (1229324) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @03:45PM (#24769581)
  • Danger ? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by UberHoser (868520) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @03:47PM (#24769599)

    So correct me if I am wrong, but could the Black hats write something that could hijack this? Suddenly I am seeing bogus emails going out to my credit card companies, etc..

    • Re:Danger ? (Score:5, Informative)

      by The MAZZTer (911996) <megazzt.gmail@com> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @05:18PM (#24770661) Homepage

      Firefox has a security framework in place which is designed to prevent web pages from being able to manipulate the browser chrome (aka javascript code, UI, etc). So on the firefox level, pages can't access any add-on code to begin with. Up until recently pages could reference scripts or other chrome documents as urls but I believe this has been fixed in Firefox 3. The only possible exploits now would be if ubiquity explicitly registered javascript commands for any web pages to use to interact with ubiquity, and I don't believe there are any (actually ubiquity works exactly the opposite way, the user calls up ubiquity to interact with web page contents, not the other way around).

      My understanding of the behind the scenes stuff in Firefox is rudimentary at best, so don't take my word for it. Mozilla has tons of documentation [mozilla.org] on their site.

      • by Bizzeh (851225)

        Firefox has a security framework in place which is designed to prevent web pages from being able to manipulate the browser chrome (aka javascript code, UI, etc). So on the firefox level, pages can't access any add-on code to begin with. Up until recently pages could reference scripts or other chrome documents as urls but I believe this has been fixed in Firefox 3. The only possible exploits now would be if ubiquity explicitly registered javascript commands for any web pages to use to interact with ubiquity, and I don't believe there are any (actually ubiquity works exactly the opposite way, the user calls up ubiquity to interact with web page contents, not the other way around).

        My understanding of the behind the scenes stuff in Firefox is rudimentary at best, so don't take my word for it. Mozilla has tons of documentation [mozilla.org] on their site.

        CANT access? CANT? i think what you mean is "should not be able to access", as you should know with software, there is always a way around ssomething.

        also, with the amount of data this is collecting when doing these tasks, whats to stop mozilla from lining its pockets with some nice targeted advertising?

        • by BZ (40346)

          If content script could access chrome, it could do all sorts of bad things (like reading your hard drive). So while you're right that a bug could grant such access, those sorts of bugs are stop-the-presses-and-fix-this firedrills.

          > whats to stop mozilla from lining its pockets with some nice targeted advertising?

          Probably nothing other than a sense of ethics. Of course Firefox already knows the list of URLs you visit as well as their full contents, so it seems you're trusting it to not misuse this infor

    • Yes, they can, if you install plug-ins for Ubiquity that do that. It's all talked about at the official site.
  • by haluness (219661) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @03:48PM (#24769621)

    This is very handy - especially since it's much easier to code up a Ubiquity command than a ful fledged Firefox plugin. And the fact that it's interactive differentiates it from Greasemonkey.

  • Ubiquity XForms (Score:2, Interesting)

    by leighklotz (192300)

    Interesting choice of name, given that IBM recently announced Ubiquity XForms [google.com], a 100% AJAX implementation of XForms which lets web application authors to use markup to control DOJO and YUI and other libraries, and which runs in Firefox, IE, Safari, and Opera.

  • Its amazing (Score:1, Interesting)

    by ilovesymbian (1341639)

    I just installed Ubiquity. Its amazing. They should have done this a long time ago.

    Maybe its a good idea to have the top 10 social bookmarks in there, like Stumbleupon, Delicious, etc as well.

  • oh the fun (Score:5, Funny)

    by nimbius (983462) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @03:51PM (#24769653) Homepage
    when the CEO accidentally twitters the list of layoffs thanks to a hotkey.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by linhux (104645)

      It will just be a few Adams, Allen and Anderson that will get upset, the rest would be outside the 140 character per tweet limit.

    • The list was cut off at 140 characters, and only people whose last names begin with A were listed.

  • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @03:52PM (#24769675) Homepage

    Some of the examples seem nice, but I'm not quite convinced. How is this substantially different from the various site-specific Firefox extensions, like the kind Flock uses to help you integrate Flikr photos with your blog?

    I'm the sort that is always conflicted about whether I really want my browser to be a web-application platform or I'd rather keep it as a plain document viewer. The latter seems safer and more efficient for a lot of things, but here I am posting on Slashdot, and webforms already make it more than a passive viewing application. But anyway this sort of thing exacerbates the tension for me because I can't quite figure out what new direction the devs are pushing the browser towards.

    Don't we hit a point where we take a step back and ask, "What are we really trying to do here?" and then build a system for that purpose? If we want to standardize web application interaction, then it makes me want to ask: Should we really be trying to rebuild the browser to use the backwards hacks that people are currently using to make web applications, or do we want to build a new web application framework and a new sort of web-application platform built for that purpose? Must we squeeze everything into the web browser?

    But I might just have a mental block on what they're trying to do. And besides, they're only claiming to have made an experimental prototype/tech-demo, so I guess there's no point in getting into a huff.

    Now, someone tell me that I don't understand what the Internet is.

    • "What are we really trying to do here?"

      My own view on this would be that a browser should help me in trying to reach/dispense 'information' with the least steps possible.
      Be it that you're searching for a particular subject/video/songname/tutorial/etc, or that you're communicating through a blog/email/IM/forums: And I think this extension definitely helps with that.

      I think it would be better if they made it even more integrated within Firefox (of course withholding any serious security problems), by ei
      • by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @05:35PM (#24770827) Homepage

        My own view on this would be that a browser should help me in trying to reach/dispense 'information' with the least steps possible.

        I just wonder sometimes why everything needs to be done in the browser.

        It reminds me of one of their other experiments, Snowl [mozilla.com]. We used to have the newsgroups using its own protocol and application, and then that got replaced with forum web applications. Then that forum and weblog software started adding support for RSS so you could grab the feed and dispense with the defined UI. So then with Snowl it seems like they're essentially allowing you to treat the feeds like threads and reply directly-- and it suddenly made me wonder whether we're essentially returning full-circle to newsgroups, but using different protocols.

        I don't have any real objections to the development, but there's been this general push to put everything into web applications, including e-mail, chat, discussion, and office applications. But then it seems like some of these browser experiments and extensions are being created specifically because we don't want to deal with websites. And that makes a certain amount of sense to me, because I'm the sort of user that much prefers to use a local IMAP client than webmail, and prefers to use a RSS reader separate from my browser, but the whole progression just seems a little weird and unplanned.

        I'm half expecting people to declare IMAP to be obsolete in a new age of webmail, and then turn around in 5 years and build a complete e-mail client extension into the browser using XML to pass e-mail around, but no HTML for the interface. To me, the whole web application took a funny turn when I realized that Google Reader also published RSS, thereby allowing you to view their web-app RSS reader in a client-end RSS reader application.

        It all make me wondering whether we might want to aim for a future without websites. Maybe not the complete end, but here's what I'm really starting to wonder: when I want to check the Wikipedia 10 years from now, will I be opening a web browser and typing "http://wikipedia.org"? Will the Wikipedia even bother to offer an HTML version? Or will they just have some database of articles with a pre-set API, and I'll be able to query the database for information from any number of applications, depending on the platform I'm using and the purpose of my query.

        And then if that's the case, someone will have to develop a generalized viewer for these queries which would follow certain display specifications, and you'll end up with the reinvention of the web browser.

        Blah. Sorry, I know this is kind of an aimless rant. But these Mozilla experiments do funny things to my head.

        • It's because of the tools. With RSS, you only need a web server. Web server hosting is and was cheap. A news server on the other hand? I don't even know how to set one up. Can I host a news server on Dreamhost or some other $10/mo hosting company? So even if the functionality is the same, HTTP-based technologies usually win because of the available tools.

          • Sure, and I understand that. There's also an issue of accessibility-- not in terms of accessibility for disabled people, but if I'm using some random computer, I can point the browser to something more easily and readily than I can set up a news reader. Maybe that's not "accessibility" but rather "portability". Whatever you want to call it, it does seem to be an advantage of web applications. They're also inherently cross-platform.

            But it keeps striking me that I really don't like web applications. Reg

            • by JimFive (1064958)
              I'd like to chime in that I agree with you.

              I really like(d) the plain text message format of newsgroups with the ability to track read messages and thread the discussions. I also miss offline reading. Moving everything to html/ajax seems to force everything into a box that doesn't quite fit. For BBS style sites a straightforward nntp type protocol straight from the source (e.g. that isn't copied around the internet) would be ideal.
              --
              JimFive
              • For BBS style sites a straightforward nntp type protocol straight from the source (e.g. that isn't copied around the internet) would be ideal.

                Yeah, I wouldn't pretend to know what the correct protocol would be, but it seems to me like the smart thing to do would be to create some kind of a standard discussion protocol that would be easy to query and post from either a desktop client or a web client. Like lots of weblog software allows posting through XML-RPC and reading through RSS.

                I guess that's where the web is heading, but it doesn't seem to be getting there in any coherent/systematic way.

        • by MacJedi (173)

          I'm half expecting people to declare IMAP to be obsolete in a new age of webmail, and then turn around in 5 years and build a complete e-mail client extension into the browser using XML to pass e-mail around, but no HTML for the interface. To me, the whole web application took a funny turn when I realized that Google Reader also published RSS, thereby allowing you to view their web-app RSS reader in a client-end RSS reader application.

          I think you are dead-on. It would not surprise me at all if this, perverse as it seems now, comes to pass in some form or another.

          I wonder if all software and systems await similar fates or if there have been any theoretical results on this topic? There does seem to be a tension between the power of a tool and the ability for a tool to interact with other tools that do different jobs. Much of the early success of the web was, in my opinion, due to the fact that you didn't need a separate program for viewing

        • by spazimodo (97579)

          I'm half expecting people to declare IMAP to be obsolete in a new age of webmail, and then turn around in 5 years and build a complete e-mail client extension into the browser using XML to pass e-mail around, but no HTML for the interface.

          This exists (sort of.) Using Outlook with RPC over HTTPS you're connecting via Outlook Web Access (the Exchange webmail server) It's a pretty nice feature since it allows traveling mail users to get their mail without requiring a separate VPN connection. HTTPS traffic is allowed through most outbound connections (e.g. crazy locked-down customer sites, free WiFi, home ISPs that block outbound TCP/25) which is why I think you're seeing a move to re-implementing existing protocols in HTTP (a kludge no doubt, t

    • by patro (104336)

      I'm the sort that is always conflicted about whether I really want my browser to be a web-application platform or I'd rather keep it as a plain document viewer

      Why not have both? Provide a simple interface by default and add optional features which people can turn on if they want them.

      I think choice is a good thing and there is no single interface which appeals to everyone.

      I would use this new interface, because it appeals to me. You wouldn't. Where's the conflict?

      • I'm not so much talking about the interface, but the functionality. It's just that we started with what was essentially a static HTML viewer, and now we have an application framework, and this new development by Mozilla suggests that they're aiming toward having the browser be a whole platform where web applications can integrate and interact.

        And that's cool and all, but something about it is unsettling to me. I don't expect that convince anyone of anything; I'm just voicing an opinion. I think I'd feel

        • by devinjones (13739)
          Sounds like you want the functionality exposed as a service so you can have the option of using a user interface other than the default Web User Interface. Ubiquity provides a way to invoke web services without opening a new tab or window, and to manipulate and insert the results.
          • Yeah, I suppose that's part of what prompted my posts here. There seems to be an attempt here to bypass the websites' interfaces in favor of getting to the bare functionality, but for me this just raises a lot of other questions and ideas.

            The basic weirdness it raises is, if you're setting up your web browser to bypass HTML and CSS and access/manipulate the data more directly, using HTML as only semantic markup and not a display markup, then it seems like the web browser has transitioned into a different

            • by Abcd1234 (188840)

              But it seems like, ideally, there would be some sort of standardization on how those services are exposed to this sort of browser.

              Yeah, it's call SOAP. Go talk to Amazon about it. Or Google. Or any number of other websites that expose proper web services. Sure, there are quite a few that don't, and in those cases Ubiquity is forced to interact with a clunky screen-scraping interface, but the technology is already there to solve that problem.

            • it seems like the web browser has transitioned into a different sort of application. It's not clear to me what happens to the Internet at that point.

              It becomes the Semantic Web, and it gets closer to what Tim had in mind when he invented the WWW than what we have now with HTML + CSS.

    • have your cake and eat it too
      firefox -P viewer | minimal interface streamlined for viewing pages (fussion, compact menu, menu editor, etc)
      firefox -P webapp | (shit loads of mashup and site extentions, runs slower but gets what you need to do one faster)
      firefox -P porn | probably a mix of the above

    • by frission (676318)
      I think part of the deal is that it's so much faster to use current existing technology. How long have they been working on JS 4 and HTML5, and whateverelse version 6.0? Who's going to define the API for this new thing that doesn't exist? How long will it take to make something that works as easily as what's available now? Also, these people that are making the backward hacks aren't stopping anyone else from making this new big thing that you mention, and they're not necessarily the same people that wou
      • I don't mean to complain, and I'm not really in a huff. I'm just having a hard time conceptualizing the whole thing somehow, and I wanted to voice that. I thought maybe some other people would know what I meant, even though my post was terrifically unclear.
  • by roman_mir (125474) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @03:56PM (#24769719) Homepage Journal

    This entire article reads as if the new FF extension at least solves world hunger and maybe even provides world peace. It's a command line interface that pops up in some black dialog box, where you can type commands instead of pointing and clicking with a mouse. It's great, but users will have to learn those commands, won't they?

    • by pdragon04 (801577) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @04:26PM (#24770041)
      Been playing with it for a little while now. So far the commands are very natural to what you'd think they are. Google Maps is "map", Gmail is "email", in-line translation is "translate {selected text} from {language} to {language} (by far my favorite feature so far). And all you have to do is start typing for it to suggest commands it has. Makes it very easy to learn what it can do. If the "trusted network" of commands gets going like they plan, new commands are as easy to get as visiting a website and installing like a plugin after reviewing whether it's one you like & trust. Once this gets a feature to let me use Thunderbird to email, I'll like it even more!
      • by hellwig (1325869)
        Does it maintain proper order of operations? What if I want to "translate my selected text from english to spanish from english to spanish"? I guess I'm just confused, not being a FireFox user, but what is the point of being able to type-in "email". If you set gmail to one of your speed-dials (FireFox has speed-dial, right?) can't you just do Ctrl+1 a lot easier? Do people really have more than 9 or whatnot websites they visit with such regularity that selecting your bookmark with the mouse is wasting t
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by TLLOTS (827806)

          Just typing in 'email' may not seem like its of much value, if gmail is just a ctrl click away, but think about this command

          email this to george

          That command would take 'this' (the currently selected text), open up gmail and insert it into the body with the to field set to the best match it can find for george in your address book.

          The next step of course is to add support for other email clients as well, both those on the web and those that live on the desktop. It's not there yet, but there's definitely a lo

    • by patro (104336)

      It's great, but users will have to learn those commands, won't they?

      They should be able to define their own name for a command which makes learning it much easier.

      • That should be easy enough to do [mozilla.org]. But that's not the point -- it's supposed to be an "explorable" linguistic command line interface, and there are quite a few ways to explore. Oh, and right clicketyclick for context menu of all commands.
    • by pattokun (834182)
      In theory, yes, but if the extensible functions are written using natural language commands like the examples of "map these" and "twitter this" then there should be a near-negligible learning curve.
  • Hmm, this doesn't get me anything that the Services plugin for Sawfish [wikia.com] does. Oh well.

  • Wasn't Firefox supposed to be the anti-bloat fork of SeaMonkey? Are we going to have another fork in another year that's the anti-bloat version of Firefox?

    • Are we going to have another fork in another year that's the anti-bloat version of Firefox?

      I dub thee WaterWeasel.

    • by Urger (817972)
      Ubiquity is a firefox extension, not a part of the core app. You need to opt-in to get it and hence, is not bloat.
  • Not user-centric (Score:4, Insightful)

    by brundlefly (189430) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @04:17PM (#24769951)

    This is a classic case of "because we can build it"-based design instead of "what problems can we solve for users"-based design.

    • Re:Not user-centric (Score:5, Informative)

      by Elliot_Lin (972399) <elliot.hughes@gmail. c o m> on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @04:41PM (#24770205) Journal

      This is a classic case of "because we can build it"-based design instead of "what problems can we solve for users"-based design.

      Definitely disagree with you. I only installed it today and its immediately become part of my workflow. Its best to think of it as a way of pulling information into a page that wasn't there to start with as opposed to a 'web interaction automator' or the 'net command line' some sites have labeled it as. For example it provides translation directly onto a page without having to run it through a new translator - so it all feels like functionality that should have been there to start with - rather than some nifty toy. They've actually thought it through based on existing products. For example quicksilver/gnome-do style things have really taken off with a + combo - so a + combo feels very natural. And because it allows you to use language like 'this' it makes sense.

      • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

        by slyborg (524607)

        I'm betting an iceweasel pelt that in 12 months you and most of the other dabblers will be on to the next fad and will have vague, disturbing, memories of this, just as I do of the emacs web browser. Just because a platform is programmable doesn't mean that -everything- should be implemented there.

        The main arguments I tend to see for apps like this are from the class of geeks that believe that it is too inefficient to ever change apps/windows/remove hands from keyboard. Which is why I particularly enjoy the

    • by lubricated (49106)

      welcome to open source where the number of contributors and not the number of users is a measure of success.

    • by johannesg (664142)

      Looks more like a classic case of "let's slam the thing in question without even bothering to read the fine article" to me...

      • I not only read the article, I also even tried out the software for a day or so. (Several days ago.)

        Looks more like a classic case of "let's assume someone is ignorant, simply because we don't agree with them" to me...

        • by LKM (227954)

          I not only read the article, I also even tried out the software for a day or so. (Several days ago.)

          Looks more like a classic case of "let's assume someone is ignorant, simply because we don't agree with them" to me...

          Actually, I think it's a classic case of "I can't use this, so it must be useless for everyone" thinking :-)

    • Perhaps you're unfamiliar with the work this group did pre-Mozilla when they were called Humanized. They didn't name the company that on a wimb -- read through some of the archived blog entries on their design decisions -- you'll learn quite a bit about user-centered design.
      • Perhaps you're wrong. I am quite familiar with who they are, as well as who their parents might be.

        I also happen to think that most of their work which adds text-based interfaces to existing tools is not exemplary.

    • by batman14 (1231454)
      I don't think you get it there. It is a new greasemonkey, more flexible, more versatile. Think of an integration with gnome do for instance. It is a great workflow schema for advanced users and I let you try by yourself. I've been using it for two days and it is natural for me now to use. A good example for developers : when I'm testing apps and I see a bug, I just type my own command made in 1 hour, "redmine-add bug", and my command guesses from the current html page some context info automatically added
  • I installed this and it doesn't work at all for me on Firefox 3.0.1 on Ubuntu, I can fire up Ubiquity but I can't issue any command 'cause for some reason the enter key after typing something doesn't do anything.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by pdragon04 (801577)
      In the Tutorial: "

      ...On Linux, we don't have a good messaging system yet. If you have a suggestion for how Ubiquity can display messages on Linux (preferably in a way that will work on all major distros and window managers), please tell us about it. "
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by smolloy (1250188)

        As I was saying above, it's working fine for me on Fedora 9 x86_64.

        I don't see the "enter key" problem the OP was referring to.

      • You left out the text just below that: => there is libnotify on Linux.
        • by pdragon04 (801577)
          Hmm... that was added after I read the Tutorial before. Least there's people contributing!
      • I find that a bit weird, since the Windows version doesn't use any Windows-specific APIs that I can see. It looks like a custom-made sliding notification box... which I would expect would already be in the Linux Firefox build! I'm pretty sure the Linux version has those (they appear when downloads finish etc), although I can't remember for sure.
    • Works fine for me on 64-Bit 8.04 - perhaps theres a package missing somewhere?
    • by tolan-b (230077)

      Works for me, Hardy + ff3.0.1

      It is a 0.1 release though so bound to be buggy.

  • Not Launchy (Score:3, Informative)

    by fsterman (519061) on Wednesday August 27, 2008 @05:09PM (#24770571) Homepage
    Comparing this to "Launchy" is pretty silly. Recognize this for what it is, the first steps of a new wave of Interface Design brought about by Interface Engineering.
    Ubiquity's pedigree is MUCH older, going all the way back to the Canon Cat [wikipedia.org] and the late Jef Raskin's [wikipedia.org] idea of The Humane Interface [raskincenter.org], this being a subset closer related to The Humane Editor and Aza Raskin's Enso [humanized.com].
    The Humane Interface is, in fact, an entire rethinking of human computer interaction, restructured around what Cognitive Science has to say about human mental capabilities instead of a strange, cobbled together desktop metaphor and separate applications.
  • this seems to be an interesting concept that has the potential to be useful given the right systems and tools added to it. It would be a good fit for any number of these micro linux projects like gOS (thinkgos.com). As things move to the web and speed up I can see this become a pseudo operating system. I can write emails and pull up info on the net. I should be able to sms and IM on the thing.
  • I installed it today, and decided to quickly create my own useful plug-in for it: ROT-13 Encoder/Decoder [me.com].

    One of the nice things about Ubiquity for anyone here who hasn't tried it is that it can modify the content of a website. As such, you can use my ROT-13 plug-in to decode the following text in-place (just as I'm using it to encode it in-place):

    Tnqf, qba'g gryy zr lbh npghnyyl vafgnyyrq vg???

    It's the ability to actually modify pages which makes this a bit more interesting.

    Yaz.

  • Ok, I read the article and I don't get the excitement. Did Firefox just implement AppleScript? Tell firefox send selected text to twitter I mean, ok, the ability to have semi-natural language scripting is neat, and the ability to have it interact with the displayed document is neat, but once the initial golly-gee wears off, so what? -- JimFive
  • I suppose it's nice for people whose only interaction with the computer is a web browser, but I already do most of the things they described naturally without using crippled browser interfaces for everything, using the Mac's native services and scripting. It's almost funny that he demos a scripted way to copy a map out of a browser window when I already have a little scripted shortcut that pulls up the map based on an address (and it's not limited to craigslist and some restaurant site) and the Mac snapshot

  • translate "googleplex direciÃn" to english | imfeelinglucky | map | send to johndoe@xpto.com

    map should use the first address found from the google's im feeling lucky search

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