opera moving in the firefox direction || MAIN || congratulations to jake

April 19, 2005

spatial navigation rocks

Doug Turner, the Minimo lead developer, and longtime Mozilla hacker, has created a couple of special Firefox builds with an awesome experimental feature called "spatial navigation".

This feature was designed for television remote control style navigation for Minimo (built for pioneer research) but I think it's right at home in a full-featured browser. To use it, just grab one of the Firefox builds from DougT's site and after starting Firefox, just hold the Shift and Alt keys and you can navigate the links on the page with your four arrow keys.

You don't have to worry about the flow of the page like you do tabbing through links, you can just arrow your way around. It's hard to explain but once you've used it for a while, you won't want to be without it.

The feature will be evaluated for possible inclusion in later Firefox releases - after we get more community feedback and settle on some UI issues like color/highlighting. You can help us by grabbing this experimental Firefox build and playing with the new feature (and playing with the feature preferences.

I'm excited about both the increased usability and the improved accessibility that this feature ads to Firefox. What do you think?

Posted by asa at April 19, 2005 08:42 PM

In the mean-time, could this be created as an extension for the current 1.x releases?

Posted by: Jed on April 19, 2005 09:20 PM

(and playing with the feature preferences.

the fonts on that page are terrible...

Posted by: wormeyman on April 19, 2005 10:00 PM

I love the idea. I favour the keyboard over the mouse for navigation heavily, and this would be great to see in future Firefox milestones.

Posted by: Rishi M on April 19, 2005 10:06 PM

Two years earlier and easier to use...

Opera's browser factory is proud to include an extra treat in Opera 7's golden release: Spatial Navigation, changing forever how users will interact with their keyboard when online.

Spatial Navigation was first introduced in Opera's iTV business unit. With Opera for iTV on their set-top boxes, TV viewers appreciates how simple it is to use the arrows keys on their remote controls to navigate the electronic program guides or between links in Web pages. Now Opera is bringing the same concept to everyone's desktop computer. By combining the Shift and arrow keys on the keyboard, users can easily move to links or any other navigational element on a page.

"Power users will simply love Spatial Navigation," says Mary Lambert, product line manager desktop, Opera Software. "Combined with earlier Opera innovations like multiple document interface and powerful keyboard shortcuts, this will be a new must-have feature that underlines Opera's lead in browser innovation."

Posted by: uncle on April 19, 2005 10:56 PM

I have to mention a pet project of a good friend of mine: KeyNav. http://www.keynav.com

It does exactly what this spatial navigation does: let you navigate the tab focus in any direction. It's been around for two or more years in an Internet Explorer version, and for the same amount of time, he's been wanting to make a Firefox extension that did it.

Posted by: Joen on April 20, 2005 12:18 AM

"Firefox moving in the right direction"

Posted by: Rijk on April 20, 2005 12:18 AM

Hmmm, this looks interesting.

The example on the main SNav page isn't very good though, especially since it says: "Without Spatial Navigation, you would have to hit the tab key 30 times!" That isn't true -- what I actually typed was "try" and the correct link appeared.

I believe that by default you have to type "'try" (with the apostrophe), but I find that I follow links so much more often than I search in the page (doesn't everybody?) that it's worth having 'Firefox' set up like this, and it's a good way of navigating to most links. Since that's so much better than tabbing through links, I make Tab useful again by having the hidden pref set so it only tabs through form controls, not links. Pages typically have few form controls, so if I want to focus one pressing Tab a few times usually does that.

But ... my set-up falls down in 2 circumstances: pages like the 'Slashdot' homepage, where lots of the links are labelled "Read More"; and pages with all the links as images. So I still think SNav sounds useful, and I'm looking forward to trying it.

Posted by: Smylers on April 20, 2005 01:43 AM

Gr8 work! This is the only main feature which holds me to use Opera. The combination of "find as you type" and "spatial navigation" is fenomenal! I have waited a long time for a extension or something like this which works integrated with Firefox. I hope it will be a default part of Firefox in a near future.

Posted by: Erik on April 20, 2005 01:48 AM

"experimental feature", "pioneer research"???

Opera implemented it 2 years ago.
You won't claim, that you made something revolutional, will you?

Posted by: Poop on April 20, 2005 02:00 AM

>"experimental feature", "pioneer research"???
>Opera implemented it 2 years ago.
>You won't claim, that you made something revolutional, will you?
Mabye he meant the research team at Pioneer ( http://www.pioneer-eur.com/ )? LOL

Posted by: habacus on April 20, 2005 02:38 AM

From Spatial Navigation in Mozilla:
> Eventually, this may build as a default part of FireFox.

Even someone in Mozilla can't spell the word right. XD

Posted by: minghong on April 20, 2005 03:05 AM

Opera users have had this feature for a while. So stop dressing up these catch-up FF features as something new!

Posted by: Wally on April 20, 2005 03:14 AM

Go home Opera jerks. Annoy someone else with your irritating attention whoring. This surely won't get Opera's marketshare past the, err, 2%.

Posted by: Someone said ADD? on April 20, 2005 04:41 AM

any one here using frogpad?

Posted by: pheloxi on April 20, 2005 04:42 AM

That's great news.
Also would be nice if zooming in and out of a page (text-only) kept position. Or find as you type, was spatial that is find at the top of the viewable area.
Anyways, Spatial rocks!!

Posted by: ok on April 20, 2005 06:55 AM

I tried it and it doesn’t conflict with the Windows keyboard layout switching. If you press Alt-Shift it will switch and do nothing in Mozilla, and if you press Alt-Shift-Right it moves the focus in Mozilla and do nothing with the selected keyboard layout.

Nevertheless it would be kind of awkward to have this on the same shortcut. For example, if I press Alt-Shift to move the cursor, and then change my mind and release it, it will switch my keyboard layout. For me this would be bothersome, however many people have unknowingly got multiple keyboard layouts set up on their machine (e.g. Dutch and International) and they might be unintentionally switching between them when using ‘Spatial Navigation’, not knowing what happened and why their keyboard suddenly works differently.

But, Ctrl-Shift is already taken, and so is Ctrl- and Alt-, so there aren’t much alternatives. Perhaps Ctrl-Alt. I would prefer that, as for me reaching for Alt-Shift has one specific meaning, and doing the same for a supposedly often-used navigation method would be weird.


Posted by: Laurens Holst on April 20, 2005 07:15 AM

Actually find as you type is spatial [eats own words]

Posted by: ok on April 20, 2005 07:17 AM

(from the discussion on MozillaZine)

Given the option to use a key combination on the right of the keyboard, might as well just use AltGr+cursors. As a matter of fact, that’s actually not too bad, as you can use that combination with your right hand only! Thumb on AltGr, and do the cursors with your pinkie. RightCtrl+cursors would be even easier to reach. I like the idea of only needing one hand to use this.


Posted by: Laurens Holst on April 20, 2005 07:25 AM

You can always tell when a very well made software product is doing everything the right way. The product is rapidly drawing crossfire from other products' fanatics, like cowpies draw flys! ;) If you feel compelled to make a comment about some other product, at least mention if you enjoy using FF and make it in a non-combative tone; but in any case, flaming a FREE product is mighty low and just plain stupid. ;)

I don't use any other browser than IE and FF, both are secure and well made with FF set to be my primary browser. I use Thunderbird as my primary email client, having totally stopped using MS Outlook a long time back without any regrets. Keep up the great work Mozilla! Your primary FF/TB continues (now) to set a new pace and direction for keeping and/or attracting customers. The acceptance and approval ratings are growing online and many sites provide it support. At its current pace/growth, FF should be a major player in the browser world. I do think there should be some marketing time afforded TB, as it definately has a lead in quality, security, ease of use and overall quantity/quality of features over its competition (e.g., the Outlook family, in particularly)!

Posted by: Anonynona on April 20, 2005 07:53 AM

That's similar to the way i used to position the Cursor on the Commodore 64 way back in the 80'ies... I'm used to it! I like it!

Posted by: Hans-Werner Guth on April 20, 2005 09:18 AM

Nobody's flaming FF! But there is no doubt, the OP did not have the information (or ignored it), that the exciting spatial navigation feature may be new to FF, but not to the world. And Opera implementing it in a usable manner for years is nothing more than a plain fact.

FF is great and free, Opera is rather better, but commercial -- anyone'd be free to make his own decision...

Posted by: Xaxaxa on April 20, 2005 10:16 AM

Man... reading this thread and the one below sure brings back memories from the Amiga vs Atari ST days :) And even further down the memory path, the Speccy vs C-64 days...

Posted by: Gualg on April 20, 2005 11:45 AM

> You can always tell when a very well made software product is doing
> everything the right way. The product is rapidly drawing crossfire
> from other products' fanatics, like cowpies draw flys!

"You can always tell when a product is based on marketing rather than excellent technology. The product is all about pretending things like "we invented this and that", like Don Quixote making up enemies from wind mills."

Look! I can make obviously biased and inflammatory statements too! I'm cool!


Posted by: Fanboy on April 20, 2005 01:24 PM

@Laurens: Ctrl+Alt isn't such a good idea. Laptop users that plug in an external keyboard tend to use Left Ctrl+Left Alt to simulate the Fn key on laptop computers. (This is useful to easily control the volume or switch displays.) And if you have an international keyboard, there is no Right Alt key. It's the AltGr key.

Posted by: slxception on April 20, 2005 04:01 PM

Off-topic, but: is auto-update for 1.0.3 going to be switched on any time soon?

Posted by: Greg K Nicholson on April 20, 2005 04:31 PM

Innovation is nice and all, but if we don't focus on fixing bugs ( and regressions like Bug 283730 - http://forums.mozillazine.org/viewtopic.php?t=228991 ), then we're (almost) no better off than IE which kept introducing features but never fully implemented HTML, even.

Posted by: Block Sheep on April 20, 2005 08:02 PM

So is this feature able to be built by specifying "ac_add_options --enable-extensions=spatialnavigation" or are the experimental builds done with code that is not checked into CVS yet?

Posted by: RabidPenguin on April 20, 2005 08:21 PM

Lol, someone mentioned the C64! I remember those days, you fancy PC users - we only had TWO Cursor keys and had to use shift to toggle between left/right and up/down. You PC users have got it easy, I tell ya!

Posted by: Kroc Camen on April 22, 2005 01:18 AM

Ooh, Firefox users see the light too. :-)

Soon you'll be raving about the next big thing, like SVG support by default, CSS 3 speech support, or whatever...

Seriously, I like Firefox too for some reasons, dislike it for some others, but regardless which you prefer, it helps to keep track of other browsers. I mean, in this case it just gave me the same impression as when I read about Microsoft "innovating" new exciting technologies.

Posted by: Jug on April 22, 2005 07:33 AM

Hey...am I not right? Opera sucks! Firefox can do way more than what Opera can. Trust me...I downloaded it to test it. Besides that Opera's E-mail sucks..how much storage? 3, 4 MG? Come on...Oh about Opera Software's CEO swimming across to US...hopes he drowns! lol

Posted by: Alex Morganis on April 22, 2005 11:51 AM

No Mac OS X build? (;_;)

Posted by: NIk on April 22, 2005 05:38 PM

WTF?! I am so sick and tired of FF claiming to innovate. I mean, it's a great browser, but it's SO CLEAR TO ANYONE WITH A BRAIN that "Firefox is moving in the Opera direction" ..Not the other way around. How many extensions does it take to get Opera functionality? 5? 10? 15? 20?!?! Geeze. You are not an innovative company, just get over yourselves. Why do FF fanboys attack Opera fanboys? Because, you know damn well that Opera came up with EVER FEATURE YOU KNOW AND LOVE *ages ago*. So what it costs money, IT'S BETTER. I use it, and I get all these "innovative FF features" long before you people. So live on in your ignorance, and keep denying where you RIP OFF your features, that's just fine. But don't insult Opera by saying it's "headed in your direction" or whatever, when you know damn well that you're in denial of the truth.

Posted by: Nunya on April 23, 2005 02:12 AM


Hey Man chill...Firefox is better than Opera because we don't have ads on our browser. Mozilla works for the people not the money like you Opera fans do. If you like Opera you shouldn't be here.

Posted by: Alex Morganis on April 23, 2005 08:01 AM

I can read whatever and post wherever I want to, until a moderator says otherwise.

Posted by: Nunya on April 23, 2005 12:14 PM

asa: "You don't have to worry about the flow of the page like you do tabbing through links, you can just arrow your way around. It's hard to explain but once you've used it for a while, you won't want to be without it."

If you can't live without spatial navigation you should switch to the new Opera 8.

Alex Morganis: "Hey Man chill...Firefox is better than Opera because we don't have ads on our browser. Mozilla works for the people not the money like you Opera fans do."

Assuming that a browser is better than another browser just by comparing the fact that they do or not have ads is kiddy. I mean, dude, I got the source of Firefox and in 5 minutes I'll add some Google Ads to the top. Does that make any difference between my build and the Firefox one??

At Mozilla web developers just do what they like.

Posted by: ROBO Design on April 23, 2005 12:14 PM

Just to clarify, I don't have any problem with feature copying. It's this acting like they created half of it, speaking of "browser innovation" and shit. What, other than extensions, which have problems (but are a great system in general), has Firefox really innovated on? Or Mozilla in general, for that matter? Just on the browser/rendering engine level? Seriously, this post was pure half-truth on asa's part, and you all know it.

Posted by: Nunya on April 23, 2005 12:32 PM

One more thing, I know here he doesn't say anything about innovation, just "experimental features" (psh), but almost everyone related to Firefox hypes up features they ripped of of Opera, just like MyIE2 and nearly every other feature. Opera copies things, but they don't hype up the things that they copy, that I see. They don't hype up find as you type, which I believe firefox had first. Hell, there's a review on CNET about Minimo... Well, here read:

"Another advantage of Minimo is that it is fully standards compliant and is compatible with various platforms.

"We can be ported to many platforms that Opera can’t"

Opera is pretty damn compliant, and has this guy seen the Opera core source code, or what?!

Mozilla just has a reputation of over-hyping themselves, and spreading half-truth about Opera. And we all just get tired of see ing it over, and over, and over, and over....

Posted by: Nunya on April 23, 2005 12:58 PM

Aaaand, same article:

"At present, phone users need to linearly tab through every link on the page to get to the right link, but the new technology will allow users to move between links on the Web page using the arrow keys.

'We have the proof of concept working right,' said Turner. 'The hard part is working out where the next closest link is--it is a hard maths or computer science problem. You need fuzzy logic.'

Tell me that isn't half-truth hype?! Opera has been able to do this crap on mobiles for quite some time.


Posted by: Nunya on April 23, 2005 01:10 PM

Opera 8 cost me 8 € (~ 11 $) as there was a promotional offer in a german IT magazine (C´t) (That is, for a desktop (all OS) license !!!)

I think that is so close to "nothing", that I won´t even consider FF.

I don´t know a software that is cheaper at that level of functionality / professionalism. Most shareware costs more.

I don´t mind paying for *good* software. I mind paying for bad software, or software monopolies which drive prices to crazy levels (´thinking about Macromedia & Adobe e.g.)

Posted by: Patrick Schriner on April 24, 2005 11:09 AM

Adding accessibility features to Firefox that can be further adapted for use by people with disabilities, is great news to me. My mind immediately lept to thinking about the ways "spatial navigation" might be used and who I know in the adaptive software tech community that might have enough knowledge to get further involved. I don't care where the ideas came from or who might have had it first, if it eventually makes it easier for my clients to access the internet and have choices in which browser they use. Keep up the good work!

Posted by: "Stormwind" on April 24, 2005 11:53 PM

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