Mozilla interfaces to get 'humanized,' developer says

The founder of a startup from which Mozilla hired three UI developers reveals details of the intellectual exchange and work that will result.

Mozilla should soon be experimenting with some novel user-interface technologies for its browser and other products, according to a UI developer that joined Mozilla this week from startup company Humanized.

Aza Raskin, who until Wednesday was president of Humanized, a five-person startup in Chicago, is now user experience lead for the Mozilla Labs team, he said Thursday. He will be working on technology to let people "do anything you want to do, anywhere, anytime on your computer," he said.

Mozilla announced Wednesday that it had hired three of the principals from Humanized, which is known for its innovative work with the Enso project to create more intuitive user interfaces. Mozilla did not identify the people it hired, and Raskin was hesitant at first to say which of his colleagues had joined him at Mozilla. Eventually he acknowledged that Humanized's Jono DiCarlo and Atul Varma also have joined the company known for its Firefox browser.

Enso user-interface software was designed to make it easier to perform daily tasks that require the use of multiple applications or functions. The software runs in the background and allows users to type in simple commands to access applications, instead of leaving the window or application they are in to use another one.

For example, if a user wants to open Firefox from the current screen, instead of having to find the Firefox icon or go to the Start menu in Windows, Firefox can be opened by pressing the Caps Lock key and typing "open firefox." Performing calculations and acquiring word definitions can be executed in a similar way from whichever window the user is in at the time.

"Those ideas need to be explored at Mozilla," Raskin said, though "it's unclear yet what form that will take."

He and his Humanized colleagues were attracted to Mozilla because the company "has a lot of vision" to extend the Web beyond the browser, he said. The Firefox browser remains the company's primary product for now, however, although it also offers the Thunderbird open-source e-mail client.

Raskin said that many advances on the Web, in terms of online services and mashups, have been designed with the developer in mind, and because of that they run the risk of making the browser a mere delivery vehicle for streaming applications -- much like what the desktop has become. He aims to use technology and ideas from the Enso project to add more human interaction not just to the browser, but to anything people do on the Web itself.

"I want the power of mashups not in the hands of the developer but in the hands of end-users -- in the hands of your grandmothers and your teen-aged son," he said. "So you really can be writing an e-mail and say, 'Now I want a map in there.' Things like that -- a place where you can actually start having a conversation with your computer."

Raskin said that most people, whether they know it or not, are captive to their computer -- they do their work on it or use it only in the way the computer allows, and have very little control over that interaction. The idea behind Humanized, and now the work Raskin and his colleagues will do at Mozilla, is to change that for everyone, not just people who know their way around a computer.

Mozilla did not actually acquire Humanized, and Raskin said its Web site will be up for some time, but the company is effectively now part of Mozilla. He and his colleagues are working out which pieces of the Enso project will be relevant to their work at Mozilla, he said. Raskin posted on his blog about his new position.

Of the remaining Humanized employees -- systems architect Scott Robbin and Treasurer Andrew Wilson -- only Robbin's next move is clear for now. Raskin said Robbin is running the company's music-search-engine project, Songza.

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Elizabeth Montalbano

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