Opera logo and Opera Unite logoThe Opera web browser has introduced a lot of cutting-edge features* over the years, many of which have since become standard in other browsers like Firefox, Chrome, IE and Safari. But they’ve also introduced features that didn’t catch on. With Opera 12, released yesterday, they’ve taken the first step toward removing Opera Unite and Widgets.

Opera Unite was a fantastic idea to move beyond the standard client-server model that dominates most internet activity and take peer-to-peer communication to the next level. Instead of relying on central servers like Facebook or MSN or Gmail, you could run a chat room, photo gallery or other application directly from your computer.

It never really caught on. If I were to guess why, I’d say that the big reasons were security concerns (turning your computer into a server!), the rise of easy-to-use cloud services, and the increasing move toward mobile computing. It’s one thing to let friends remotely browse a photo gallery from your home desktop that you leave on all the time. It’s another to have them view that gallery data from your iPad over your sketchy and bandwidth-capped cell connection.

As for widgets, they were sort of an odd thing to begin with: not quite applets, not quite extensions, and in competition with native widgets on both Windows and Mac OS that didn’t depend on having a browser open. (Though these days, when don’t you have a browser open?) Honestly, I’m still somewhat mystified as to why Opera created them in the first place.

Opera 11 introduced an extension system, and they’ve released a reference on converting widgets to extensions.

Widgets and Unite are still present in Opera 12, but turned off by default for new installations, and will be removed from a future release “before the end of this year.”

*I still disagree on the issue of tabs, on the basis that a tabbed interface is distinct from MDI.

If you’ve been following the Firefox 4 betas, you’ve probably noticed that they’re dumping the status bar. OK, a lot of people didn’t use it, but here’s the thing:

When you hover over a link, the status bar tells you where it will take you.

This is important (especially for security) — important enough that they’ve moved the functionality elsewhere…but in a broken manner. They’ve put it into the location bar — you know, the field where you type in a URL, or look to see where you are.

The problem is that there isn’t room in the location bar to show the full URL of a hovered link except for very short links. The status bar has the entire width of the browser. The location bar has to share that space with the navigation buttons, the search box, the feedback button (during the beta), any custom toolbar buttons, the site name on secure websites, etc.

Just about every link I hover over ends up with critical information cut off in the “…” between the start of the hostname and the parameters at the end. That’s almost useless. (Almost, because at least the hostname is visibla, but it would help to see the page name as well.)

Displaying the target URL in some way is core functionality for a web browser, and you shouldn’t remove or break core functionality. In some ways this is worse than the proposal a few years ago to remove “View Source,” because that at least isn’t core functionality for a browser (though it is core functionality for the web, because it encourages people to explore and tinker and learn how to make their own websites — which is exactly why that was put back in). It’s crazy that I need to install an add-on to get back something as basic as a working preview for links.

Firefox has been testing a new release that detects and closes crashed plugins (instead of letting them crash Firefox entirely) for several months, carefully making sure everything was working before they released Firefox 3.6.4 last week.

Within days, they released an update. I couldn’t imagine what they might have missed in all the beta testing. Katie wondered if the beta testers hadn’t been testing the limits.

You want to know what convinced Mozilla to issue an update so quickly?

Farmville.

Apparently Firefox was detecting Farmville as frozen and closing it. It turns out that on many computers, Farmville regularly freezes up the browser for longer than 10 seconds, and its players just deal with it and wait for it to come back. Mozilla decided that the simplest thing to do would be to increase the time limit.

What this tells me is that the type of person willing to beta-test a web browser these days is not likely to be playing Farmville — or if they are, it’s likely to be on a bleeding-edge computer that can handle it without 10-second freezes.

In more practical terms: Mozilla needs to convince a wider variety of users to help test their software!

Aha! Firebug slows down JavaScript even if it’s not active on the current page. That explains a LOT! # Facebook & Gmail run so slowly in Firefox on my home computer that I’ve been running them exclusively in Opera (and now Chrome). This is almost certainly the cause.

Update: Apparently that’s not it, since I had both the console and script panels disabled as described in that article. Oh, well.