Mozilla gets more user interface power

TechCrunch reported today that Mozilla has hired Aza Raskin and two other founders of Humanized, a Chicago-based software development company with a deep emphasis in user interface innovation.

For example, Enso, Humanized flagship product, is a launcher that quietly stays behind the scenes that you can access pressing and holding down the CapsLock key to bring a command line to launch applications, documents, perform simple calculations, minimize/maximize/switch windows, perform a Google search and other common tasks. Coincidentally (or not), Enso was made a free product today.

Enso Launcher

Songza, another example of Humanized’s work, is an amazing music search engine/player that I can’t recommend enough: search for a song or artist, get results almost instantly from anywhere it may be available in the web. Then you can play, share, queue or rate it through a positional menu optimized for fastest access. While no of these UI elements is an invention of the company, the precise combination provides it a unique user interface and makes it an extremely useful web tool.

(Note: For a taste of positional menus, try easyGestures which replaces Firefox 2’s context menu with a toolring.)

Songza

In some ways, Firefox 3’s awesome bar is an approach to the graphical keyboard user interface Enso proposes: you get to access your history, bookmarks tags, titles and addresses by entering a few letters in the location bar to get to the web page you want, no matter how exactly you got to it in the past. Another example is the Ctrl+ Tab extension (Firefox 3 only) which besides providing fancy tab thumbnails it lets you select the desired one by entering some tab title characters.

And it is no coincidence. Alex Faaborg, part of the Firefox user experience team, blogged last year about experimentation with graphical keyboard user interface in part inspired by Humanized and QuickSilver (a Mac OS X launcher similar to Enso). In his post, Alex provided some mockups of how this hybrid UI could translate for Firefox. One of them was implemented as the Ctrl+Tab extension mentioned before. Firefox 3’s tagging is another example of how the keyboard can be a more effective input mechanism.

While Mozilla hiring people is not really news, the point here is the specific people involved say a lot about where Mozilla is heading for the thing hundreds of millions of users face every day: the user interface.

As Aza summarizes: “The goal of Enso, Humanized’s flagship product, is to make computers more usable for everyone. You shouldn’t need to care about which application or web service has the functionality you want — you should just be able to use that functionality anywhere. You should be able to spellcheck your file names, add maps to your emails, and translate your IMs by simply telling your computer what you want.

There is clearly a lot in common with that goal and Mozilla’s goals. Although I don’t know what the final form will be, there is a huge opportunity to make both the web and the desktop fundamentally more humane.”

Aza and the other hires will join Mozilla Labs tomorrow, January 16.

7 thoughts on “Mozilla gets more user interface power”

  1. It’s Raskin, not Raskini.

    Otherwise, thanks for the informative story…and the reminder about Enso.

  2. I can see what the final form will be. Firefox 4 is aiming to work on mobile devices, and UI innovation such as EasyGestures would make that viable.

  3. I am sceptic to leave usability issues to people who use Flash on their webpage for navigation — and in a way that does not even seem to work.
    (Click “see all beta products”). I am also sceptic when I see that their stuff is Windows only.

    Thanks for the recommendations, but no, thanks.

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