This website covers knowledge management, personal effectiveness, theory of constraints, amongst other topics. Opinions expressed here are strictly those of the owner, Jack Vinson, and those of the commenters.

How ubiquitous?

The folks in the Mozilla development labs launched Ubiquity to work on top of Firefox 3.  It's gotten a lot of notice amongst the technophilic.  But is it ubiquitous?

First off, What is it?  It's an extension to Firefox that let's you do a bunch of (potentially) interesting things which used to require either programming skills, lots of copy & paste, or were otherwise too arcane to be easy.  Everything operates from a keyboard shortcut or a Ubiquity context menu.  See my full article for more details about how it works, or check out their user tutorial.

Ubiquity reminds me of ActiveWords (for PC) and Quicksilver (for Mac).  ActiveWords operates very similarly: there is a keystroke trigger that can fire actions based on the current selection or upon a typed command.  I haven't used Quicksilver, but the auto-completion feature is a natural comparison point. 

The thing that's missing in Ubiquity is there with both ActiveWords and Quicksilver: they are truly ubiquitous.  With ActiveWords, I can take the same action in any application (and I can script some fairly complex sequences of actions, if I want to do so).

Ubiquity does a lot.  And I can see it adding value for people who spend a lot of their time in Firefox.  It's ubiquitous in that environment, and takes a lot of advantage of deep integration into that one tool.  But I don't operate solely within Firefox.  And for that, I need ActiveWords, where I will stay for the time being.

How about some examples of what you can do in Ubiquity:

  • The first is their ability to quickly drop a map into a Gmail note you are composing. Highlight the address you just typed, activate Ubiquity, type "map" and amongst other things, Ubiquity shows you a Google map of the address. From there, you can Insert Map in Page and continue composing.

  • This functionality works with any web page, even those that you can't normally edit. Highlight an address, activate, type "map", and then you can replace the highlighted text with the map! Obviously, this won't be there when you come back, but it could make for easy printing of the map along with the context from which it came.

  • The replacement trick works with a number of other capabilities as well: translation (activate, "translate", execute); calculations (activate, "calculate", execute).

  • Ubiquity recognizes "this" as the current selection, so if you needed to email selected text to someone, you might do "email this to jack vinson" and as long as "jack vinson" is in your email address book, it should compose the note.*

  • "this" also gives you ability to write more complex sentences that is a long-term goal of the Ubiquity project.

  • Here's the long list of actions in my current version: Google, Search, Wikipedia, IMDB, Yahoo-search, Amazon-search, Bugzilla, MSN-Search, Flickr, YouTube, eBay-search, Ask-search, Answers-search, Yelp, Calculate, define, Link-to-Wikipedia, Translate, Syntax-highlight, email, add-to-calendar, weather, map, convert, escape-html-entities, word-count, Twitter, TinyURL, close-related-tabs, map-these, Tags.

  • To top it all off, you can write your own functions, and share those with other Ubiquity users. Clearly, that is for the more adventurous out there, and contradicts my claim that this is supposed to be for people who don't want to learn programming.

* I've noticed a number of times where something is supposed to work and doesn't.  Composing emails is one of them.

I'd love to know if ActiveWords could do some of these more advanced things, like "grab a map of THIS location and paste it into the current document."  I'm not sure doing automated replacements is possible - this works in Ubiquity because it stays within the Firefox environment.

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