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Firefox 3.2 Plans Include Natural Language, Themes 285

Posted by timothy
from the subject-to-change dept.
Shrike82 writes "Mozilla have described plans for the next version of their popular web browser, Firefox. Mozilla's "Ubiquity project" is set to become a standard feature, allowing "users to type natural language phrases into the browser to perform certain tasks, such as typing 'map 10 Downing Street' to instantly see a Google map of that address, or 'share-on-delicious' to bookmark the site you're currently visiting on the social news site." Also of interest is so-called "lightweight theming" allowing users to customise the browsers design more easily. The launch date is still somewhat unclear, and Mozilla are apparently unsure if version 3.2 will be released at all, apparently considering going straight to Firefox 4."
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Firefox 3.2 Plans Include Natural Language, Themes

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:03AM (#26796653)
    save users a heap of bandwidth and build the entire Internet into the browser. Mozilla: the only browser that doesn't need a 'net connection! It'd have around the same amount of bloat.
  • NOOOOOOOOOO! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by beelsebob (529313) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:04AM (#26796675)

    Sounds... shit.

    Come on, Firefox was meant to be a lightweight extensible browser. I don't want more features. If they want to ship these features, they should be making extensions.

    • by hansamurai (907719) <hansamurai@gmail.com> on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:10AM (#26796769) Homepage Journal

      mod-up-insightful-comment-26796675

    • Re:NOOOOOOOOOO! (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:11AM (#26796781)

      RTFA - Ubiquity is an extension ! But it needs a few changes under the hood, that's all. The main difference is that it will accept commands typed in the location bar, and you don't have to type ctrl-space first (which is what the extension was all about). The actual commands will have to be downloaded/installed from the net.

      Besides, it's nothing really special, you can call it a "command line interface for the browser". It has nothing to do with natural language.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by KasperMeerts (1305097)
        You can't call it a command line! That's way too hard to understand, that's, like, for nerds and stuff.
      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by irae (1152885)
        What?? But ctrl+space is why I like it! it's like eclipse's content assist, handy and fast. I love translating with ubiquity, it's just ctrl+space, tra shit to french. much easier than going to google page, focus the edit field, choose languages with a mouse, hit search, ugh.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo (196126)

        I don't see how this is any different from the current keywords system. For example, if I type "w firefox" my browser will look up Firefox on wikipedia. It's all done with the existing mechanism of keywords for bookmarks via the address bar.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Directrix1 (157787)

      So, don't upgrade. Seriously, what is wrong with you people? Software adds on features over time. Thats how it works. What makes something bloated is if the features they add outstrip the progression of the average man's cpu/memory capacity. This is not the case with Ubiquity. I have used it. You will never notice its there.

      • Re:NOOOOOOOOOO! (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Zarhan (415465) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:20AM (#26796901)

        Problem is that they stop security updates for old versions.

        I was HAPPY with firefox 2.x. Even with addon that tries to resemble the old behavior(Old Location Bar), I hate the way firefox 3 handles it. I much liked the way I could type part of the url and I'd see ordered list in my search history of matching places - ORDERED by number of visits.

        I didn't want to go 3.x, but since 2.x no longer gets security updates...I'm SOL.

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          by patro (104336)

          Problem is that they stop security updates for old versions.

          It's open source. You can maintain it if you want to or you can find/pay people who do it for it you.

          • Re:NOOOOOOOOOO! (Score:5, Insightful)

            by nmg196 (184961) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @11:47AM (#26797933)

            I really hate it when the standard answer for everything is "it's open source - just fix it yourself". Do people really think that every single person on this site is an expert C/C++ developer with 80 free hours each month to spend fixing problems in the software they use?

            • by patro (104336)

              You can also pay or persuade others to do it.

              If the Mozilla devs drop the 2.x line and concentrate on version 3 then it's their decision.

              If you are not satisfied with the decision you can always pay others to maintain any other version for you, but you can't expect from those who work on for it free to work on an other version than what they prefer.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by s_p_oneil (795792)
          I agree, which is why I'm hoping Chrome sticks to "lean and fast" design goals. I really like the fast JavaScript engine, the way it manages downloads, how each window and tab is an isolated process, etc. There are definitely some UI elements I don't like as much as Firefox, but as long as I can see what I want to see quickly enough, Chrome is definitely not bad. It will be interesting to see how long they hold out against the bloat that inevitably infects almost every software project.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by MBGMorden (803437)

        The problem is that Phoenix (the original version of Firefox) was originally seperated away from the main Mozilla suite because the other had become bloated and over-laden with features. It was supposed to built on the philosophy of providing a BARE MINIMUM feature set.

        That means giving me what I need to browse a modern website, and leaving any other functionality up to extensions. If you just stick with an old version, then the first part doesn't remain true forever. Browsers need updates. They need to

        • by Korin43 (881732)
          And that's why I use Chrome now..
        • The great part about having an open source browsers is the rendering engine is also open source. Try using one of the other browsers that just use the Gecko rendering engine. Or hell use one that uses Webkit. Its more lightweight these days anyway.

          On an off note, I thought the original version was called Firebird, but they had to rename it because it conflicted with the Firebird RDBMS.

          • by MBGMorden (803437)

            On an off note, I thought the original version was called Firebird, but they had to rename it because it conflicted with the Firebird RDBMS.

            No, the original name was Phoenix, which they had to change due to a confliction with the Phoenix BIOS company. They then changed the name to Firebird (which essentially describes a Phoenix without using the specific name), but as you said, that conflicted with the Firebird database system, so they then changed the name a third time to Firefox.

        • by cp.tar (871488)

          You fail to account for the fact that not only the underlying technologies have changed, but also the way we use the browser. Not to mention the negligible little fact that the users have changed as well.

          I like the way things are going and do not consider Firefox bloated.

      • by gad_zuki! (70830)

        >? Software adds on features over time. Thats how it works.

        Yes, and thats why the original Mozilla project was such a failure. You want a web browser? Naww, you need a html editor, newsreader, and email client too!

        I understand adding more to a project, changes in UI, changes in architecture, etc, but another damn search method?? Right now you can type anything in the url bar, in the search box next to it, or into any search engine. Adding in NLP is just more bloat. You can already search through a variet

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by owlnation (858981)
      I agree, the point of having an extensible browser -- surely -- is to keep the core simple and to allow users to customize what they see as necessary. Firefox has moved away from this model for some time.

      In the light of Chrome's development, I'd see the Mozilla developers time be better spent on developing multi-threading for Firefox. This being the biggest problem with the browser as it is.

      I want multi-threading, but I can't use Chrome on a Mac, and I won't use chrome due to the lack of adblock / fl
    • I see the time to learn Epiphany extending approaching...

  • by Hoplite3 (671379) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:09AM (#26796735)

    They want to make Ask Jeeves all over again in the url bar?

    Don't search keywords do this better, and in a more controlled way? I set up a google maps search keyword of "map", then I know what happens when I type "map address". Similarly with other keyword constructs. Keywords let me build on the browser's functionality in predictable ways. Ask Jeeves? Remains to be seen.

    (Although I am given to understand it is the FBI's premiere tool to search for terrorists.)

  • by BarryNorton (778694) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:10AM (#26796753)
    That's your example of natural language? Map as a transitive verb and a fairly specific reference? How about: "show me where the prime minister's house is on a map"?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by doti (966971)

      agreed.

      this way it's almost indistinguishable from using the (very useful) bookmark keywords [mozilla.org].

      • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

        by irae (1152885)

        Bookmark keywords uses only one parameter %s, ubiquity is much more flexible.

        For example, "tra[nslate] something to french"

        Besides, you don't have to open a new tab for a result, just type "we[ather] madrid" and you get info in a small elegant console, it's faster.

        You can change text with it. E.g., you're writing an email, and you want to change a URL to tinyurl. Select the URL, ctrl+space, type [tiny]url, enter. Voila, it's changed. I find it very useful.

        And it looks cool with different skins.

    • by telchine (719345) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:18AM (#26796879)

      The other this is, it's pointless! Even with current versions of Firefox, if you type in [map 10 Downing Street] to the address bar, you'll get a map of 10 Downing Street.

      That's because words entered into the address bar tapes you to google's top result.

      Google is already pretty good at working out what you want. Why would I want Firefox to override this?

      • by op12 (830015)
        True, you get Google's top result and you can also use Firefox's keywords feature to create search shortcuts of your own. But Ubiquity is more powerful. You can highlight a page of Craigslist results and use the map command and it will actually extract addresses from the detail pages of each result and map all of them. It can do translation of a webpage while you're on it, do syntax highlighting on code snippets, etc.

        That said I still don't think it needs to be integrated in the browser and I don't see t
        • Ubiquity is more powerful. You can highlight a page of Craigslist results and use the map command and it will actually extract addresses from the detail pages of each result and map all of them. It can do translation of a webpage while you're on it, do syntax highlighting on code snippets, etc.

          None of which uses real natural language either. Finding addresses is just an extension of named entity recognition, code is a formal language and Google Translate is statistical.

          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            To be clear: the end goal of Ubiquity is to have a natural-language command-entry system, so that you can say "Book me a trip from Washington DC to Seattle for next Tuesday" and it will figure out all the details (show you ticket prices, maps, etc.).

            Obviously the current version of Ubiquity is a long way from achieving that goal. You must still enter your commands in a way that it will understand.

            However, Ubiquity is making progress in that direction by having it recognize more natural command structures (e

            • Rubbish. You don't need to have full AI to have a natural language-based system with some success (albeit short of passing the Turing Test), but if you're starting with controlled structure you're not doing natural language at all. I'm not putting down NER, I'm not even putting down controlled vocabulary, I'm just saying that the example (and everything you've said on top of it) shows no sign that natural language is even being attempted here.
              • As I said, it's not natural-language yet. That is a goal, not a current feature.

                I think of it this way: on the one hand we have rigidly-structured input-output systems, like most programming languages and commandlines. On the other end we have human-to-human natural language: you speak naturally and they understand.

                The goal of Ubiquity (as far as I understand it) is to move towards that "natural" end of the spectrum. It is starting with simple things, like using command names that are easier to recognize (e

                • You're welcome to view it as a spectrum if you like (in the abstract I'm not refuting that), but from an implementation point of view I'm highly sceptical that controlled language is on the route to the implementation of a natural language interface. It's like saying you're moving towards making a screwdriver by making a hammer (along the tools to apply fixings spectrum).
          • NE recognition is a part of natural language processing and most NLP methods are now statistical. NLP as a field is still a hodgepodge of small solutions to small problems that most of the time. Anything bigger than a sentence and the "understanding" part falls apart rapidly.

      • by Piranhaa (672441)

        Because Google is currently the biggest money giver for the Mozilla Foundation. If they pull support, wouldn't you still want the feature to work with other search providers?

        Look at: http://ca.search.yahoo.com/search?p=map+10+Downing+Street&fr=yfp-t-501&toggle=1&cop=&ei=UTF-8 [yahoo.com] (it doesn't automatically pull up a map for you)

        Google is good - I use GMail - and swear by their searching. At least now features that Google has built in is able to be pulled down to the browser level and used on ANY

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        Google is already pretty good at working out what you want. Why would I want Firefox to override this?

        If you play with Ubiquity for a little bit, you'll see why it is not merely a duplication of Google's functionality. It is more than just a shortcut for web searches, it's meant to be a fast and efficient way to do things.

        The example that Aza Raskin most often gives (Aza is the lead on the project and also happens to be the son of Jef Raskin, who started the Macintosh project at Apple) is something like: "You are writing an email and want to embed directions... rather than searching the web and then copy-an

    • by IBBoard (1128019)

      Even "show me a map of 10 Downing Street" or "where is 10 Downing Street" is better than something that could almost just be a standard bookmark with a keyword (which I've set up some additional ones for myself). "Share-on-delicious" - all well and good, but is it "natural language" enough to understand "share-on-somenewsharingsite"? Doubtful.

      Overall it sounds like a load of bloat and an excessive claim using buzzwords to garner interest.

    • 1. Open FF. Click search bar.
      2. Type "England Prime Minister" [google.co.uk] Press enter.
      3. Click first link.
      4. Look at "Residence" on right hand side.
      5. Save yourself 29 keystrokes and a lot of ambiguity.
      6. ...
      7. You know what goes here.
  • by windsurfer619 (958212) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:10AM (#26796761)

    use natural language

    comment story positive

    example show

    search +5 funny

    • by FlyByPC (841016)

      use natural language

      comment story positive

      example show

      search +5 funny

      ...Profit!

      There, fixed that for you.

  • by snspdaarf (1314399) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:12AM (#26796795)
    Didn't she make films with John Holmes?
  • Not to belittle this development, but the majority of web users get confused about old and simple features such as bookmarking.

    Isn't introducing this sophisticated interface a bit too much? It's great if you're used to bash or similar stuff, but unless this thing really works with natural language (it doesn't) then it's just a glorified command prompt.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      it's just a glorified command prompt

      I think that's sorta the point.

      A commandline isn't inherently user-unfriendly. A commandline confuses the average user for a variety of reasons, which Ubiquity is trying to address. So I would say the point is to make a glorified command prompt. So glorified, in fact, that the average person can benefit from it.

      For instance one of the things that makes a command prompt difficult for novice users is that they don't know what commands are available. As you type in Ubiquity, it shows you a preview of commands

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by Chninkel (1396241)
      In the beginning was the command line,
      then they invented the GUI to make it easier to use that command line
      then they invented the command line to make it easier to use that GUI
      then ...
  • Rotated text (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Stroot (223139)
    Will it finally include rotated/sideways text for column headers? Even IE had this feature for ages.
  • Needles to say, natural language is tough to be handled by software.

    I wonder how well it will deal with innuendo. Torn between puritan society and practical usage, what will prevail?

    Or, will I get travel directions or will I be forwarded to a pr0n site to suit my state of excitement?
  • In Soviet Russia, themes include *you*!

    Oh, wait. Themes, not memes. My bad.
  • Why does everyone insist on including features that depend on web sites that may, or may not, be available in the future? Ok, if you somehow are able to code these things yourself (I fail to see the value in the natural language thing), but to hard code it to specific URLs to apps that can change at the whim of their creators? DUMB.

  • by Darth_brooks (180756) * <{moc.liamg} {ta} {773reppilc}> on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @10:42AM (#26797153) Homepage

    Enough with the super-uber-awesome search crap. Give me an MSI (that I don't have to build myself), give me a way to push settings via group policy, and most of all give me a browser that I can centrally manage even half as easily as I can manage IE. Oh, and lemme just give some space here:

    ^ That's where you run-off-to-google-up-some-snark-for-my-reply folks can put your links to tools like FirefoxADM that haven't been touched in almost four years, or to frontmotion and their "give us a 150 bucks and we'll roll your MSI for you" service. Take this example; I want to change the homepage on 50 PC's, each with two or three different users. In IE it's a one-line group policy change. Firefox? roll up your sleves, you'll be there a while. Maybe push out a new prefs.js file into each user's profile. Maybe roll up a CCK custom XPI. Or just roll your own MSI and have it re-install the entire damned browser.

    Until Chrome, Firefox, and Opera get over circle-jerking themselves about getting IE's sloppy seconds market share, there's not even enough motion to say that there's a even a "browser war" going on. I really hoped that Mozilla would take a decent swing at the enterprise market. Instead they're doing 110mph down the netscape road towards a bloated browser. Meanwhile, Chrome and Opera aren't doing much more than pulling on to the on-ramp of the same road, and touting how you'll go do the same path, only in style!

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by auTONYmous (1459307)
      Here's an idea: get your head out of Microsoft's ass and help with projects that do exactly what you're interested in, like THIS ONE: http://www.kaply.com/weblog/2008/03/14/group-policy-extension-for-firefox/ [kaply.com] God forbid people actually learn how to do something they didn't learn in MCSE class *SIGH* Or even worse: looking at page 2 or 3 in a Google search.
      • by mmaniaci (1200061) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @01:24PM (#26799427)
        Maybe he's like the rest of us and doesn't have time to spend developing for an open source project. Maybe he doesn't have nearly enough programming skill. Maybe space monkeys force him to use IE at lasergunpoint. Either way you are the stereotypical /. nerd-dick that did 2 minutes of Googling and therefore has the right post a malicious reply to a valid comment. Assholes like you make me want to be a jock instead of a geek... you make a bad name for us.

        Anyway, my 2c: No matter how hard Mozilla tries, they will not beat Google in search. To try is futile, wasteful, and frustrating (for us hopefuls). And there is a damn Google search bar BY DEFAULT in a typical Firefox install which can easily handle real-language queries! C'mon!
      • Posting a link to a half-dead project run out of somebody's basement (a project that's a glorified clone of one of the dead projects I mentioned in the parent post, no less) proves my point. I want these tools *FROM MOZILLA.* You know, the people that actually developed the browser in the first place? Do you have any idea how hard it is to sell Mozilla as being better than IE when this shit is what passes for enterprise support? No, of course you don't. You know what IE settings I push via group policy? Home Page, ignore proxy for local domain, and proxy of 127.0.0.1. I don't let IE off my local network unless there's a damn good reason. Every user in my shop gets FF, and the IE icons get blown away, and it's been the same policy for four years now. Spyware? Barely heard of it. Firefox is the better browser in every last respect, except one.

        This is Mozilla's problem. Not the guys that spend days hacking together fixes to make firefox almost sorta kinda work as good as IE, so long as you don't dink with it too much. If they want market share, why are they concerned with getting me to use their browser on the couple of PC's I use, instead of the hundreds I manage? If they want to be a seen as the better browser, why not step up to the plate and actually fight where it counts? Nope, they're apparently more interested in getting on grandma's PC than they are in getting on the Domain.

        You wanna know where my head is? It's in the real world, watching IE get used in business because the guys who are making a better browser are more concerned with revolutionizing the way I use google fucking maps. Here, lemme contribute: F6 maps.google.com. There, I knocked out that whole search problem for ya. I've revolutionized searching. Now how about working on some better profile management tools?

        But hey, you go ahead be happy with Awesome bar.

    • It's also worth mentioning the 357 CPU-hogging bugs [mozilla.org] as an example of working on things that don't matter.

      If you can't visit Bugzilla from Slashdot, put this URL into another tab: https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/buglist.cgi?quicksearch=CPU [mozilla.org]
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ScytheBlade1 (772156)

      I'm tempted to adjust my preferences just to mod you up higher.

      Mozilla has poked around with MSI, in the sense that they just have an MSI wrapper over their executable installer, which defeats the point of MSI almost entirely.

      It's not that they're barreling down the road towards bloated browser, it's that they are putting no effort into the enterprise level support at all. I was in a similar situation, and wanted to deploy firefox across the company. There is no way to centrally manage preferences, and that

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by Arterion (941661)

      Yes, please!

      How can firefox be taken seriously if you can't push it to 1000 machines in a network and manage all its settings from an administrative console.

      Have you stopped to consider how much of IE's "marketshare" is happening on the countless workstations at various companies?

  • If I type "map where is Chuck Norris?" is it able to find?
  • As I sit here with a nix version of firefox that crashes pretty frequently and freezes when there is plenty of cpu time and memory available I can't help but wonder WTF DON'T THEY DON'T STOP WITH THE FEATURES BULLSHIT AND MAKE THIS DAMN THING RUN MORE RELIABLY. Sincerly, Someone who wants a reliable browser
    • by BZ (40346)

      You've been submitting the crash reports, right? Can you look at your about:crashes and point me to the relevant URIs? I'd love to see what I can do to get those issues fixed.

  • If you RTFA, you'll find out that Ubiquity is really just a fancy word for "client-side scripting." The "natural language-like interface" nonsense is really about how you invoke a script and enter the arguments. Someone has been parroting too many marketing buzzwords; by that logic Bash is a "natural language like" interface too.

  • Maybe if this is successful NLP will start to mean more to people than a way to pick up members of the opposite-sex.

  • Keywords (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rnelsonee (98732) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:21PM (#26798421)

    Meh, I'd rather keep Firefox lightweight and just use keywords.

    When I type "map 10 Downing St" it already goes to a google map. Same with "fromhome 10 Downing St", it will give me directions from my house.

    Natural language could work, but I'd rather have other, more search-focused companies do all the natural-speech algorithms, then just use Firefox as a sort-of-API via Keywords.

  • by squoozer (730327) on Tuesday February 10, 2009 @12:25PM (#26798485)

    I don't get it with Firefox. They have (had) the goal of producing a lean and fast browser with additional functionality being provided by plugins which I think they have pretty much achieved. Personally, I think they have left out a whole host of features (such as ad blocking and quick dial for example) which should be in the core but I'll let them off because they are easy enough to add in. But including this sort of browser bling in the core is just nuts.

    It's the age old problem though - you have to be seen to be doing something even if what you have is really good already. I'd actually rather they put their efforts into working harder with other browser manufacturers to make sure that pages rendered the same on every platform. While none of the alternative browsers on their own is much competition to IE if there was essentially zero cost in moving from one alternative to another there is real competition.

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