Mozilla yesterday released a prototype of a new browser plug-in that promises to completely change the way users interact with the Internet. The Ubiquity plugin for Firefox makes it possible for users to type in standard language commands to retrieve information from the Internet or to interact with web applications.
A command line interface may not initially seem the best decision to make the Internet easier to navigate but it holds a great deal of potential, some of which already works well in this initial test version.
When installed, Ubiquity adds a command panel to any web page that a user is viewing. Much like launchers such as Quicksilver, Launchy, GnomeDo and Enso – the original inspiration for Ubiquity – the panel is brought up with a pre-set key combination and into which the user types commands. Things such as "email this to bill", "translate this into german" or "calculate". Ubiquity then either performs the action or drops down a box with the response.
Ubiquity can also find Wikipedia answers, addresses, insert a map into an email, find definitions, twitter and search popular sites for highlighted text, among many others.
One of the more powerful examples of what ubiquity can do is calculations. Highlighting a formula on a web page and typing "calculate" not only returns the result of the formula but replaces the formula in the original page with the new answer.
Although there are already enough features built into Ubiquity 1.0 to impress most users, it is the underlying potential of the tool that has most people talking. Ubiquity’s most obvious strength is in creating "mash-ups" or user-generated combinations out of current online services. For example, Ubiquity already makes it possible to type in "map address" and retrieve a map to the selected point. But what if, while a user was browsing a list of houses for sale, they type in "map these addresses" and Ubiquity returns a map with all points marked? That is the kind of underlying potential that makes Ubiquity one of the most interesting pieces of software to come out of Mozilla Labs in the past couple of years.
To test out Ubiquity visit the Ubiquity site.