In theory this means that a website can ask the browser where you are, and you then get prompted as to whether or not to let the site know. Of course that raises the question of how the browser knows where you are in the first place.
Firefox uses “geolocation providers” – small bits of software that can provide geolocation information to Firefox, so that Firefox can provide it to the website. By default Firefox ships with a geolocation provider which makes an educated guess about your location based on the wifi hotspots in the area – assuming your computer has a wireless card. This works reasonably well for a wifi-enabled laptop, but it’s far from GPS-level accuracy, and doesn’t help if you’re on a machine with no wifi card at all (in which case it bases its location information on your IP address – which puts my desktop machine about 100 miles away from its real location!).
So what can you do if wifi-based location just isn’t suitable for you? In theory it’s possible to use different geolocation providers which source their data from different places. On “Fennec”, the mobile browser based on Firefox, there’s a provider for the built-in GPS of the Nokia web tablets. But there doesn’t seem to be an add-on to let the normal version of Firefox get that same information.
There is an extension that lets you put in a fixed latitude and longitude, which is fine for a desktop machine – but that hasn’t been updated to work with the release versions of Firefox 3.5. Most GPS units connect to a PC using fairly standard and well-known serial protocols running over a Bluetooth or USB connection – yet I can’t find any add-ons which will allow Firefox to access those data.
I hope that either I’ve just missed them in my searches – or that suitable geolocation providers are coming soon – because it would be a real shame to see the potential for geolocation in the browser get ignored for want of such a little bit of code.
There’s more about the geolocation feature at the Mozilla Hacks site, and based on the comments there, I’m not the only one wondering where the GPS integration is.