Updated: The search company is expected to support the open-source browser and multiple operating systems with a new Google Toolbar.
After years of offering its browser tool bar only for Internet Explorer, Google is planning to join its competitors in supporting the open-source Mozilla Firefox browser.
But the search companys Firefox embrace isnt stopping there. Google Inc. also is readying a pair of software extensions to Firefox to let users send Web-page text to mobile phones and view search suggestions within the browser.
Both the tool bar and extensions are scheduled to be available Thursday morning, company officials said. Users will be able to download the Firefox-ready tool bar from the Google Toolbar page, while the extensions will be posted as experiments at the Google Labs sites.
Googles new tool bar will be compatible with Firefox 1.0 and higher. Reports of the Firefox version of the Google Toolbar first surfaced over the weekend following a Google engineers posting of details of the launch to a mailing list for Mozilla developers.
The tool bar for Firefox will include most of the same features as the Internet Explorer version except for pop-up blocking and a feature called Browse by Name wherein users can enter a keyword in the browser address bar to automatically be taken to page of the top search result. Both of those features are already built into the Firefox browser, said Sundar Pichai, a Google product manager.
"The Google Toolbar for Firefox has been one of our most requested features," Pichai said. "We are committed to making our products available to as many users and in as many settings as possible."
In its tool bar for IE, Google provides a search query box as well as features for checking spelling, automatically filling out forms and translating words into other languages.
With the Firefox tool bar release, Google also will provide support across operating systemsWindows, Mac OS X and Linux. The current Internet Explorer tool bar only runs on Windows.
Google is the latest in a series of high-profile search engines to add Firefox support to their tool bars.
Yahoo Inc. in February released a Firefox-compatible tool bar, while Ask Jeeves Inc. followed suit in March.
Click here to read more about Ask Jeeves plans with Mozilla, including the potential for a browser.
Users of Firefox and the namesake Mozilla browser already were able to run a Google tool bar, but it came from an add-on called the Googlebar that was created and maintained by Mozilla developers themselves rather than being an official release from Google.
Earlier this year, Google updated the IE tool bar with a feature called AutoLink, which automatically inserts hyperlinks into a Web page where information such as street addresses, book ISBNs and package tracking numbers appear. AutoLink upset some Webmasters, who disliked the way it changed their Web-page links.
With the pair of Firefox extensions, Google is taking its first step into releasing add-ons to the open-source browser, which has an active community of extension developers, Pichai said.
The first extension, called Send to Phone, lets a user highlight text on a Web page and then click a browser button in order to send the text as an SMS (Short Message Service) message to a mobile phone, Pichai said.
Users could use it to send a business address, a portion of a Web-based e-mail or other snippets of information to their phones.
Read more here about Googles other SMS options for search.
The other extension brings a current Google Labs project called Google Suggest into the Firefox browser.
Google Suggest lists possible queries as a user types a search term. In Firefox, the suggestions will appear within the search-query box built into the browser.
Google eventually plans to offer the extension downloads through the Mozilla Foundations update site for Firefox add-ons, Pichai said.
Though Google, until now, has not supported Firefox and Mozilla for its tool bar, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company has woven closer ties with the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation that oversees the open-source browser.
Google at the beginning of the year hired the lead Firefox engineer, Ben Goodger, who is splitting his time between Google and Mozilla development.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include more details and features of the Firefox-compatible releases.
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As an online reporter for eWEEK.com, Matt Hicks covers the fast-changing developments in Internet technologies. His coverage includes the growing field of Web conferencing software and services. With eight years as a business and technology journalist, Matt has gained insight into the market strategies of IT vendors as well as the needs of enterprise IT managers. He joined Ziff Davis in 1999 as a staff writer for the former Strategies section of eWEEK, where he wrote in-depth features about corporate strategies for e-business and enterprise software. In 2002, he moved to the News department at the magazine as a senior writer specializing in coverage of database software and enterprise networking. Later that year Matt started a yearlong fellowship in Washington, DC, after being awarded an American Political Science Association Congressional Fellowship for Journalist. As a fellow, he spent nine months working on policy issues, including technology policy, in for a Member of the U.S. House of Representatives. He rejoined Ziff Davis in August 2003 as a reporter dedicated to online coverage for eWEEK.com. Along with Web conferencing, he follows search engines, Web browsers, speech technology and the Internet domain-naming system.