Geeking out with Ubiquity

Big news today was the very-early (0.1!) release of Mozilla Labs’ Ubiquity.

What is it? That’s a really good question. It took me several passes to fix on the awesomesauce that is Ubiquity. I scanned the Techmeme coverage, thinking it was some translation tool, then speed read Scoble’s post on it. Sounded more interesting, but still the light didn’t come on, until I saw Noel (and a few others) tweet about it from Ubiquity.

Finally, I spent time digesting what it was and checked out the video, and boy, it’s pretty promising. Hooray for weak ties.

Here’s the video. It’s worth the time invested.

Ubiquity for Firefox from Aza Raskin on Vimeo.

So what is Ubiquity? I’m struggling to define it, but as with a lot of good tools, a few good use cases show how it rocks, even if you can’t put words around what it is.

With apologies, I’ve always been underwhelmed by mashup tools. My experience as both a developer and a consumer of technology has led me to the following conclusion:

Functional people do not want to build. They only want to use. That’s why we call them “users”.

It’s a good thing I didn’t see the word mashups before I watched the video because I most definitely would have glazed over permanently, removing Ubiquity from my consciousness forever.

So, I installed the add-on and walked through the user tutorial. I’m floored by the number of really good use cases that the developers targeted. Phenomenal stuff. This is scratching the itch development at its best.

In fact, I just used the Wikipedia command to look up the link.

“w cathedral and bazaar”

Done and done. Ubiquity has a boatload of built in commands, many very useful, but they can’t possibly include everything. So, there’s a command line tool (and another tutorial) for those who want to write their own commands.

Awesome. I cranked out the obligatory “Hello, World!” example, but I’m a hack-by-example guy. So, I dug up some samples and set about building a MetaLink search command. Pretty simple stuff, I used my MetaLink OpenSearch plugin as the basis:

name: “metalink”,
url: “,P_SRCHTXT:1,{QUERY}”,
icon: “”,
description: “Searches MetaLink for your keywords.”

And now I have a MetaLink search command. As with my Wikipedia search, all I have to do is:

“me firefox”

And MetaLink opens in a new tab. Brilliant.

As with any good lab project, they’ve opened it up to the community, or herd. So, you can expect a lot more complicated actions and more useful commands will come from Ubiquity. I expect Eddie will spend some time tonight tinkering with it. He’s already tweeting about it.

Tools like Ubiquity emphasize: 1) how great a browser Firefox really is, 2) how the browser is becoming the computer for more people and 3) how motivated development can create great products.

I can’t wait for new commands (ahem, Thunderbird). I expect this effort to grow like Greasemonkey has, ideally faster. I am a bit concerned about Ubiquity’s impact on memory, since Firefox tends to use a lot already, more for each add-on you’re using. Since this a Mozilla project, I’m confident they’re hyper-sensitive to memory concerns, though.

Check out Ubiquity and share your commands with us, in comments or by trackback.

As always, sound off in the comments with opinions, etc.




  1. interesting… I don't think it will take long before people demand a command-line interface for Ubiquity, so you could do this kind of stuff from the shell…

  2. Eddie was saying that over Twitter yesterday, regarding an O/S interface. Since this is Mozilla Labs, it might eventually migrate into a shell version; that might be too intrusive to the core browser though.

    I totally dig it in the browser. It helps to be a keyboard-centric guy. Building commands is easy too. I'm geeked to see how it develops, very strong for 0.1 a version.

  3. I'm pretty sure they mentioned that the Thunderbird integration is coming shortly. All they need is to add Office and IM integration and my life is complete.

    BTW- I feel dirty for even mentioning office integration.

  4. Thunderbird is on the list, but I think they were looking for some assistance. My guess is we'll see something we can replicate or hack-by-example soon that will open up IM and Office. What about GTalk? Probably there already.

    Thanks for sharing your Office cooties.

  5. That video spoke to me – I've been thinking of moving and was searching cragslist and having to go off and get maps for them by hand. That short term requirement alone is enough for me to try it out, don't need to see anymore.

  6. Yeah, I like the tool quite a bit. It requires some work here and there, but it's right in the average Firefox user's wheelhouse.

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