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.

It’s not a huge surprise, with all the major web browsers adding their own bookmark sync services, but Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) is shutting down in January.

I figure I’ll just use Firefox Sync, Chrome sync, Opera Link, etc. to share bookmarks between the desktop and laptop, but what I really liked Xmarks for was its ability to sync different browsers together. I’m always switching between Chrome, Firefox, Opera and Safari (and occasionally IE when I’m on a Windows box) and it’s nice to have them all on the same set of bookmarks.

I guess it’s back to periodically exporting from my main browser and importing in the secondary ones, unless I find a tool or find the time to read up on the bookmarks formats and write one.

Update: Xmarks lives!

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!

It’s a safe bet that your web browser uses at least one plugin, and probably several. Maybe it’s just Flash for viewing animations and video (think YouTube and Hulu). Maybe it’s Silverlight for watching Netflix, or Shockwave for playing games. You’ve probably got Java installed.

Just like your web browser, these plugins must be kept up to date or you’ll run into problems: missing features, instability, or (worst case) security vulnerabilities. Unfortunately, most plugins don’t update themselves.

Several months ago, Mozilla introduced a service called Plugin Check that will identify the plugins you have installed and tell you whether they need to be updated — and how to do it. At first it only worked on Firefox, but now it’s been expanded to all major browsers: Chrome, Safari, Opera, and even Internet Explorer.

It’s worth taking a few moments to check. Think of it as a pit stop for your computer’s web browser.

I recently tried to retrofit a mobile layout onto an old table-based site using CSS. It was a fairly simple layout: A banner across the top, two columns, and a footer. I figured I’d use CSS to “unwrap” the table and make the sidebar and main content area into full-width sections instead of side-by-side columns.

In theory this should be simple: CSS handles tables by using the display property and assigning it table, table-row and table-cell for the <table>, <tr> and <td> elements. You can assign these properties to other elements and make them act as tables, or you can assign block or inline to these elements and make the table act like a series of paragraphs.

Initial testing worked perfectly in Firefox 3.6 and Opera 10.5x. Internet Explorer 8, as expected, ignored the changes entirely. Chrome, however, did something very strange, and Safari reacted the same way: The banner shrank, and the columns changed from a narrow sidebar to a 50/50 split…making it actually worse for small screens.

Clearly WebKit didn’t like something I was doing. Unfortunately, WebKit powers the exact platforms I was targeting: the iPhone and Android!

I dug around with the developer tools a bit to see if I could figure out what was going on. Was the browser not applying the property? Were the table cells inheriting the “original” property from somewhere else? Did I need to change properties on thead and tbody as well?

What I found was that WebKit did recognize the display:block I had added, but somehow the computed style was reverting to display:table-cell. This only applied to table and td, though. Table rows actually did what I told them to, which was why the result ended up looking bizarre.

If it hadn’t changed anything, I probably would have chalked it up to the capability just not being implemented yet. But since it worked on table rows, but not on cells, I decided to treat it as a bug in WebKit and went looking for the best way to report it. I ended up creating a WebKit Bugzilla account and reporting it as bug 38527.

Check out the testcase in Firefox 3.6 or Opera 10.5 to see what it should look like, then take a look in Chrome 4 or 5 or Safari 4.