Microsoft Activities for Firefox – New Version

I have an update for Activities that adds preview and fixes some bugs. If you just want that, skip to the end of the post.

One of the things I realized as I worked on this extension is just how amazingly easy it is to write Firefox extensions. When you combine great technology (Firefox extensions), great people (like Mark Finkle, for example), great documentation (, XULPlanet) and open source, it’s amazing what you can produce and how fast you can produce it, as noticed in Compiler from

Compare this to my experience with Internet Explorer.

One of the things I wanted to do with Operator was make a version for Internet Explorer. I spent a few weeks trying to find good documentation on creating a toolbar for IE, and I have to say it was sorely lacking. I got a basic HTC working, but compared to my experience working on Firefox extensions, it was just SO painful, I gave up. I realize I’m not a Windows programmer, and that might have helped, but I just couldn’t believe how hard it was to create extensions for IE. It’s not even called a toolbar, it’s called a a toolband which started me off in the wrong direction!

In a way, that was kind of sad because I was feeling like my focus on web development and in particular Mozilla and Firefox browsers was limiting my skills so that when it came to things like Windows development, I was at a disadvantage. (I’ve been working in the browser space and the development of web browsers for over 12 years). Hopefully, though, what I’ve actually done is cultivated a set of specialized, but very useful skills so that when other opportunities come up, I’ll be able to take advantage of them. Especially since it seems like my work at IBM is requiring less and less of those Mozilla/Firefox skills.

So all that to say, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working on the Microsoft Activities extension and the other extensions I’ve done and I hope that there will be more opportunities to do that, whether inside or outside IBM. Maybe I’ll have a chance to talk to some folks about that at SXSW this weekend.

On to the new release. Version 0.3 of Microsoft Activities for Firefox is available (make sure you didn’t grab the 0.2 that was up for a few minutes this morning). Features include:

  • Preview mode (only in FF3)
  • Problems adding services in FF3 have been fixed
  • Issues with query parameters fixed (all current services have been tested)
  • UI is updated immediately when a new service is added
  • Activities menu identifies the context you are acting in, and activities are limited based on that context (selection, link, document)
  • Built-in link to take you to the IE8 Service Gallery
  • Verified it works on Mac OS X

Interaction with the preview window is a little quirky, but I’m working on that. Surprisingly it seems to work better than IE8.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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75 thoughts on “Microsoft Activities for Firefox – New Version

  1. Can you define “doesn’t work”

    If you mean you don’t get any actions, that’s possible.

    Activities are specified to work with a certain context (link, selection, document) so if you don’t have any actions installed that work with links, you won’t get any actions.

  2. Thank you. This version works perfectly in my 3.0b2 version!!!

    But… Where is suposed to be shown the preview?

  3. The way the preview works is that some things show a little window when you hover over the link. The maps are a good example.

  4. Preview seems to not be working for me (Latest Nightly on Leopard). Nothing appears when I keep the mouse over the activity menu item.

  5. Oh ok. I only had the encarta and msnbc activities installed and when I selected a link and right clicked, none of them showed up. I guess those scripts aren’t meant to work with link selections. Odd.

  6. Hey, nice work, so you know I’ve made a bug about natively supporting Microsoft Activities:

    I don’t know where this wanted or not, but I thought it best there be a bug there so that there’s something to refer to if people want it later down the road. Feel free to edit it to your hearts content if you feel something needs changing.

  7. I just installed 3b4 and tried out installing activities again, still getting the same error. I’m gonna see if maybe it’s conflicting with something in my profile.

  8. I figured out what the problem was… it seems to be some sort of conflict with the latest version of the ScribeFire extension (with the compatibility and security checks in Firefox 3b4 disabled, of course… it worked fine in b3 although seems slightly broken now in b4). Maybe you could take a look at it to see why this is happening?

  9. The ScribeFire problem is interesting. Somehow their component registration is interfering with mine, but for me, it’s only the first time. If I restart the browser i work.

    Going to take some investigation…

  10. You mentioned porting operator to other browsers. Will you be porting it to safari any time soon? I’ll probably be just as easy as firefox since safari is also open source.

  11. Using the translation just brings me to the translation page without having my text I selected with me. I have to copy the text then go to the translation activity and paste the info in manually. FF…

  12. I’m really confused. Preview is working for me on beta 4.

    Can you turn on


    in about:config and see if there is an error?

    Maybe an extension is conflicting?

  13. amazing work!!

    please urlencode the selected text.
    or add “.replace(/[\r\n]+/g, “%0A”);” to line 307 in activities.js (adresses often contains line breaks!)


  14. For the folks having trouble with Preview.

    1. You must be using FF3 Beta 3 or later.

    2. Please put this URL: chrome://activities/content/preview.xul in the browser and tell me the results you get.

    3. Please post browser version and platform.

    For folks having trouble installing the activities. Unfortunately this is a FF bug. The actions should be installable on the second invocation of the browser.

    The next version will only work on FF3 Beta 4 and will have a fix for this problem.

  15. I got a blank page when I tried what is wrong? and I want to make a few suggestions — please put a activities button which hovers over the selected text (as in IE8). An option to select default providers–ex. I’ve got map with live maps, map with yahoo maps….so I should be able to select the default amongst them and the default should appear in activities button. and how do we delete a activity?
    I hope you’ll implement it.

  16. I got a blank page when I tried what is wrong? My browser version is FF3 Beta 4 and platform is Windows XP service pack 2. and I want to make a few suggestions — please put a activities button which hovers over the selected text (as in IE8). An option to select default providers–ex. I’ve got map with live maps, map with yahoo maps….so I should be able to select the default amongst them and the default should appear in activities button. and how do we delete a activity?
    I hope you’ll implement it.

  17. OK, so basically the problem with preview is that a setting in chrome.manifest is not working properly.

    You can fix it by going into your profile/extensions/ directory.

    Edit the file chrome.manifest.


    overlay chrome://browser/content/browser.xul chrome://activities/content/preview.xul appversion>=3.0


    overlay chrome://browser/content/browser.xul chrome://activities/content/preview.xul

    I’ll have something fixed in the new version.

  18. Room for improvement:

    Any one knows how to make the activity launch in a new tab instead of launching in the same tab?

    When u highlight the word and pick an activity u’ll be redirected in the same page. So is there a way u can force the activity to open in a new tab?


  19. @Xsever:

    Sure. I follow the shortcuts in firefox to do this. You can:

    Hold down Ctrl while clicking to open in a new tab
    Hold down Ctrl+Shift while clicking to open in a new tab in the background
    Hold down Shift when clicking to open in a new window
    Click with the middle mouse button to open in a new tab

  20. @mkaply

    Thanks a lot for the shortcuts. that was a bullseye, but the middle mouse one did not work but that’s fine. Holding Ctrl is no big deal at all.

    Thanks again,

  21. @vinitneo (and everyone else)

    I’ll have a new version out on Wed that should solve all these issues.

    It will more closely emulate IE (with default actions), as well as fixing the various install issues and the preview issues.

  22. Hi,

    I was just wondering if you had any plans of making this work with FF3.5? I have a few handy accelerators on my site that I would like users of FF be able to use and I want to suggest to them to install your extension!