Internet Explorer 8 Beta 1 is available now. I can finally talk about some of the stuff I've been working on for the past year or so: activities. Activities let you select a document, some text on a document, or a link to a document and run that selection through a web service. For example, you could select a word on a webpage and look it up in Wikipedia, select an address and map it on Yahoo Maps, select a webpage and translate it into English with Windows Live Translator, or select a link and add it to Digg.
IE8 comes installed with some activities based on Microsoft web services but there's a page you can go to to install other activities. However, that page is missing some of my favorites that I use all the time, like del.icio.us. Accordingly, I've put together a page of the activities I use. MSDN has all the info on creating Activities.
Activities are very similar to other existing features in other browsers including the ability to add context menu items to IE. There's two important differences which make activities better. Activities have a preview window that pops out when you hover over an activity, which is useful to get in place information easily provided by developers. The other is that the interface is explicit and takes after HTML FORMs and OpenSearch descriptions. Because the interface is explicitly described in XML (unlike the context menu additions described above which run arbitrary script) we have the ability to use activities in places other than on a webpage in the future. And because activity definitions are similar to HTML FORMs, if your webservice has an HTML FORM describing it you can easily create an activity.
At the grocery store the other day Sarah and I attempted to find shallot for a recipe, but I can't tell the difference between shallot, sweet onions, yellow onions, etc. etc. We found something that we decided was the closest we'd find in the store and I believe we picked correctly because at checkout the cashier rang it up as shallot.
I think this could be a practical problem that the 20q Pocket Mind Reader should be able to solve: obtain the name of an unidentified object. When we got home I decided to test the 20q Pocket Mind Reader on shallot. Unfortunately, it told me I had an onion, but I think if these were designed for identifying unknown objects based solely on information you can obtain by looking at it, rather than requiring knowledge of seeds, where it grows, etc. it would do better. Or I could just ask someone who works at the grocery store.