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Sunbird: Your Calendar, Your Way

Sunbird: Your Calendar, Your Way

Computerized calendars are all about convenience. Your calendar app -- perhaps more than any other type of software -- has to work the way you need it. Mozilla's Sunbird gives you customization options for the interface as well as a rich set of under-the-hood controls for setting up where, how and when the application gets its information.

By Jack M. Germain
07/28/10 5:00 AM PT

Sunbird Calendar could prove to be one of your most useful tools.

Sunbird
Sunbird
(click image to enlarge)

If you work on multiple computers or lack constant access to Web-based apps like Google and Yahoo calendars, you can be cut off from calendar access at very inconvenient times.

The Sunbird Calendar solves these and a variety of other problems. About the only thing I miss from my previous days of working on a Windows PC is the portable apps I could load from a USB stick onto any computer I used. I regained a sense of that mobile portability with Sundbird.

This portability lets me store the Sunbird folder on the same USB drive that holds my working files. I plug this drive into whatever computer I use so all of my research notes, article drafts, personal and business records are always with me. This is a big plus since I use two different desktop computers, a netbook and two laptops running both Ubuntu and Puppy Linux distros.

The Sunbird folder fits easily on a USB drive. In fact, I've run Sunbird from within its folder in a variety of locations, including the desktop, by right clicking on the Sunbird shell script and selecting the Run option.

It runs independently of any email client. This standalone nature precludes Sunbird from any kind of tight integration with an e-mail application, such as Mozilla Thunderbird. This is another key benefit. I do not have to be connected to any email client to get at my calendar.

The Background

Sunbird is a cross-platform calendar application developed by Mozilla.org. It is based on the Mozilla Toolkit. It is a full-featured calendar app that is easy to configure for individual needs.

I particularly like the cross-platform architecture. Much like using the Open Office suite and the Mozilla Firefox Web browser, Sunbird runs in Windows and Mac OS X in addition to Linux. This added availability is a boon to users like me whose jobs require them to function on multiple platforms.

Although there are similarities, the stand-alone Sunbird Calendar app is not the same package as Mozilla's Lightning. Lightning is a calendar extension for Mozilla Thunderbird. It offers calendaring features directly in the Thunderbird User Interface.

Look Alike

There doesn't seem to be a whole lot of variation between calendar apps when it comes to the user interface. Calendar displays all show a monthly view with daily scheduling. Sunbird's display does that as well. It is much like hanging the calendar sheet from the refrigerator door on your computer screen. But Sunbird offers much more than a calendar tear sheet.

For instance, Sunbird does not restrict you to a single month's view. You do not have to choose either a weekly or a monthly display. Instead, you can scroll to any month in the calendar box in the upper left of the Sunbird window. Separately, the main events window displays your appointments and activities by the day, week, multi-week or full month. You set the conditions by clicking the tab above the events window.

The task display in the lower left window shows your Todo List. The popup entry panel makes it easy to enter the task, set reminders, starting/ending dates, categories, privacy and add detailed notes. You can access these same choices by right-clicking in the task or events panels. Much like an email attachment, you can add a file to a Todo List entry for further information.

It is easy to keep tabs on upcoming due dates. A panel above the main events window shows scheduled items at a glance. You can select via a drop-down menu whether to include all items, just the day's activities or see ahead for one week, two weeks or the full month.

Convenience Counts

Computerized calendars are all about convenience. In that regard, Sunbird stacks up significant pluses in the convenience category. Your calendar app -- perhaps more than any other type of software -- has to work the way you need it. If not, its functionality suffers and you stop using it. I tend to put my various writing and personal schedules together. I want to avoid having to check in several locations to see if a pending appointment falls on an available date and time.

But others prefer to maintain separate calendars for different business and social needs. Sunbird lets you easily handle either scenario. This is a great feature that other calendar apps do not have.

Click the Calendar tab in the upper left edge of the Sunbird window to switch from date view to a list of calendars. The default is one calendar. Just right click in the blank panel to open a dialogue box that lets you create more calendars.

It is easy to switch from one calendar to another by clicking on a calendar name in the list. Returning to the date view is as simple as clicking on the date tab. You can add events and ToDo list entries with a right click or a button that opens a drop down menu from the tool bar. Also included in the choices is the calendar to place the newly created item.

Sharing Data

Sunbird uses a storage mechanism based on SQLite. Local calendar files have the file suffix .sdb. It can also work with files based on the iCal standard. These files have the .ics file suffix and can be opened, imported, exported and subscribed to. This makes it easy to import/export calendars. For me, running the calendar from my data USB drive eliminates the import/export dance. For others, this makes it possible to post calendars on other servers or share calendars with work groups.

Besides directly importing and exporting the calendar file, you can also maintain a calendar on a server that supports CalDAV, WCAP or has a calendar data provider add-on. These tell the server to modify individual events. Subscribe to a calendar using these methods allows you to save changes to the server one event or task at a time.

Yet a third option lets you publish events from your calendar as a personal .ics file on an FTP server or a webDAV-enabled Web server. You can use the calendar to subscribe to these events as well. But be careful here. This method overwrites the entire file for each change. This makes it a bad solution for calendars shared by others or for large calendars that even a single user accesses.

For more functionality, you can add specific holidays to a calendar thorugh an add-on system. Go here to download the particular holiday listing you want to add.

Auto Happenings

Perhaps the simplest way to manage calendars across multiple computers is to install the automatic export add-on (See Tools/Addon.) This add-on exports the calendar file when you close the app or press its button.

The add-on supports two modes. Normal mode is for routine file export. Backup mode creates backup files with a maximum number of backup files for each calendar. You can add a tool bar button that lets you do an export anytime. You can set a cyclic export function with an arrow on the button.

If you like the options available in Sunbird but do not want to leave your Google Calendar in the clouds, you can take it with you. Sunbird will sync events with Google Calendar. See here for full details.


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