Ubiquitious TAB

Firefox users may have seen the blog announcement from Mozilla Labs last month introducing Ubiquity. Ubiquity is an “experiment into connecting the Web with language in an attempt to find new user interfaces that could make it possible for everyone to do common Web tasks more quickly and easily.” You can think of it as Quicksilver for the Internet. In its most basic form, it’s a command-line for your browser.

For example, say you are reading the latest TAB review of the Logitech Premium Notebook Headset and want to find out more information on it, including a rough idea of what the going rate for it is on eBay. Previously, one would have to open a new tab or window, go to eBay, enter search parameters and get to the results. With Ubiquity installed, you select the text (or type it afterwards) for the search, hit your shortcut-key (mine is ALT-Space) and enter “ebay-search” and all those mundane tasks are performed for you.

For services that are more AJAX-ified (or just more dynamic) results can be displayed inline:

(To see a list of all built-in commands, hit your shortcut key and enter command-list)

Ubiquity even interacts nicely with Growl for displaying notices or information that you may want to be delivered in a more “sticky”, but non-browser, fashion.

The real power of Ubiquity comes from the ability to develop your own commands, and users of Ubiquity should have seen the confirmation bar when they hit TAB after this article was posted as The Apple Blog now has it’s own search command.

Just hit your shortcut key after accepting the warning and you can then use search-tab anytime you fire up Firefox (again, either by selecting text first or typing after the command). You should heed the warning dialog since there are no Ubiquity “malware checkers” and even if the initial script looks innocuous (commands are basically special javascript functions), you are actually subscribing to a link that will update itself and you may not notice that you have given up control of your browser. I would recommend only using Ubiquity commands from sites you trust. You can seek out new commands via the Herd or from the wiki (or just by hitting sites and watching for the confirmation bar).

The amazing utility of Ubiquity will emerge as savvy developers contribute to the project and come up with very interesting ways to display data from natural language queries (similar to the “book a flight” concept search on the Ubiquity main page), but if you have suggestions for other useful Ubiquity-enabled sites that are not just on the drawing board, drop a note in the comments! (It would be very cool if there was a Cocoa-related one out there, somewhere).