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8/26/2008
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Mozilla's 'Ubiquity,' A Command Line For Web 2.0

The goal is to make it easier to combine data in the Web browser and allow users to define their own commands, like macros than span applications.

Mozilla on Tuesday released prototype software called Ubiquity that aims to make it easier to combine data in the Web browser.

"Ubiquity treats extending the browser like writing Web sites," explains Aza Raskin, head of user experience at Mozilla Labs, in a blog post. "... With search, users type what they want to find. With Ubiquity, they type what they want to do."

Ubiquity allows users to make mashups using typed terms. It is, in other words, a Web 2.0 command line.

"In the Beginning... was the Command Line," a Neal Stephenson essay famously declared. The command line faded for a time, as graphic interfaces became more functional, but now the command line is back.

Google Enterprise's Dave Girouard has described Google as the "uber-command-line interface to the world."

In a February 2007 blog post, Raskin, before joining Mozilla, acknowledged Google's role in reviving interest in the command line. "The move back to language started with Web search engines in general, with Google placing the capstone when it's name became the house-hold verb for 'typing to find what you want,'" he wrote. "In fact, Googling is almost always faster than wading through my bookmark menu (which says there is something wrong with using menus as a mechanism for accessing bookmarks)."

To address that flaw, Raskin wants the open source community to extend Google's style of command line -- accessible to all rather than only to hardcore coders -- to facilitate browser-based mashups for the masses.

With Ubiquity, a user can, for example, type a restaurant name in an e-mail, select the name, option-click to bring up the Ubiquity command line, type "map" to generate a Google Map centered on the selected restaurant, and then drag that map to embed it into the e-mail so it can be shared.

A Ubiquity user can also highlight apartment listing URLs on Craigslist and generate a map that shows where the selected listings are located.

The goal is to allow users to define their own commands, like macros than span applications.

But that goal is still a ways off. Ubiquity is only a 0.1 release. It is meant to showcase possibilities and to encourage developer involvement. Eventually, however, Ubiquity might well be ubiquitous.

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