Tag Archives: design challenge

Interact with your browser using language and signs / Ubiquity and firegesture.

Last Month, Mozilla introduced The design Challenge, an initiative aimed at provoking thought, facilitating discussion, and inspiring future design directions for Firefox, the Mozilla project, and the Web as a whole. The question of the current edition is What would a browser look like if the Web was all there was?. Aza Raskin and Alex Faaborg produced an interesting video to illustrate this question:

The Design Review Episode 2: Chromeless Browsing from Alex Faaborg on Vimeo.

I really liked the idea of a chromeless browser. This is actually what I’m trying to achieve on my own computer: From the browser I’ve removed everything except the menus, the tabs and the address bar, and I’ve moved the address bar next to the menus. Additionally I have removed the window decorations on my Ubuntu (thanks to compiz) as well as the “task bar” usually at the bottom of the screen.

after:

before:

The current solution is much more comfortable: It reduces the need of scrolling and the visual distractions are limited, therefore I can really focus on what is important: the content. You may wonder how I execute the actions that were bound to those buttons. Well, your keyboard and your mouse offer alternatives to those buttons:

  • You may have a “back” and “forward” button on your mouse or alternatively use your key board (respectively [alt +← ] and [alt + → ])
  • You can open a new tab with the [ctrl + T] combination
  • Stop loading the current page by hiting [esc] or refresh it with [F5]
  • Open your home page using [alt + Home/↖]

And the new address bar or Firefox 3.0 (which I hope you are all using), the so called awesome bar, provides a way to tag your favourite Web pages, to search your history and favourites and to search the entire Web using any search engine. I won’t teach you how to do that, and I don’t even expect you to remember those keyboard short-cuts. What I’m trying to show is that non-graphical User Interface (the keyboard and the mouse) are suitable alternative to Graphical User Interface. The user is already familiar with them, and they don’t take any space on the screen :-)

Those peripherals have a lot of potential to provide a flawless chromless browsing experience to the user, but we need to make it natural for the end-user to use them that way. I would never recommend to ship my own customized Firefox to any one else… than myself. Configuring search engines in the awesome bar is still a pain (you probably don’t know how to add a new search engine, and how to assign it a keyword), remembering keyboard short-cuts will always be a pain and you may not have a “back” and “forward” button on your mouse.

What is then the most natural way to use your keyboard to interact with your browser? Wouldn’t it be great if the computer was able to understand what you ask it in your own language? This is exactly what one of the newest project from Mozilla labs has been created for: Ubiquity. Ubiquity is still in an early stage of development and may only appear as a cool command line to create mash-ups for geeks with a twitter and gmail account (if you don’t understand this sentence it means that you are not exactly the target user for this tool). However, the aim of Ubiquity is to allow you to type “search wikipedia in French for ratatouille”, “translate raison d’être from French to English” or even “create mail for Lorenzo”. Currently verbs are not implemented in Ubiquity, therefore a search command looks more like “wikipedia in French ratatouille” (which can also be written “wi in fr raratouille”). But this is a work in progress!

You will soon be able to talk to your browser, how could execute actions such as “forward”, “back” or “home” without any button? Language is an evolved and abstract way of communication, but signs could be sufficient for such simple actions. Good thing is, it is already possible to interact with your browsers using “mouse gestures” thanks to Firegesture. When this extension is installed, you can simply press the right button of your mouse and start to move your mouse to execute an action (move it to the left to go to the previous page for example).

I believe that a chromeless browser needs those two naturals means of communication with the browser: language and signs. I hope I will soon have the time to prototype a browser based on Ubiquity and Firegesture.

PS: By the way I started to develop an Ubiquity command for Wordreference, currently available on etherpad. It’s also a work in progress : )