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Posted Sep 03, 2004

Review of Mozilla's Sunbird Stand-Alone Calendar Application

by Gareth Russell

Mozilla Sunbird is the latest stand-alone application from the Mozilla foundation that follows in the footsteps of now revered browser Firefox and email client Thunderbird. Gareth reviews their first public release, version 0.2.

(screenshots)


Sunbird is the new cross-platform calendar application from the Mozilla foundation. It is based around the existing Mozilla Calendar component and is the latest in a string of standalone applications from the foundation, which are gradually replacing the current Mozilla suite of applications. The aim of the project is to create a standalone calendar for someone who uses either Mozilla Thunderbird or Firefox as their email client or browser. Sunbird hopes to offer a reduced footprint and performance enhancement over the original Calendar component. Sunbird is still in the early stages of development and is certainly experimental software with version 0.2 having been released recently. Nonetheless Sunbird is a promising application for those of you already using Thunderbird or Firefox.

A word of warning though, as of the moment Sunbird does not integrate with Thunderbird or Firefox. It is purely a standalone project, although this is one of the tasks to be solved in the near future.

The most striking difference between Sunbird and its Calendar counterpart is the theme and visual identity. Sunbird has its own logo, which is somewhat similar to Thunderbird's along with a slick visual style that removes a lot of the harshness found in the default Calendar component's theme. If you're running Windows XP then this theme integrates well with the rest of your system. At the moment there is still no option to change the theme if you do not like it, although this should be expected in future builds.

The user interface is essentially the same as the Calendar components, this entails the use of a three or four framed system. A main frame provides an overview of the day, week, several weeks or month, whilst several sub frames provide information about events scheduled and tasks still to be completed. It is a flexible system that allows you to collapse windows to get the style you want but by default it feels rather unwieldy when it is compared to the more simplistic calendar components found in Outlook or Evolution due to the large number of windows on display.

There are some improvements that could be made to the user interface to make it more accessible to new users. Some of the more useful features are only available from the title menus these should be more easily accessible through the toolbar. For example a “New Task? button for the toolbar would be a welcome addition, instead of having to enter the “File Menu? to access it. Currently upon first glance, a user is left wondering whether or not such a function is available and only the task frame alerts you to its presence. The included keyboard shortcuts are of great use and once remembered they can dramatically speed up use of the program. As of yet there is no ability to change the shortcuts or to set up your own, but this is something to be expected from future releases.

Coloured tagging for events would also improve the interface of the application. Currently you cannot assign colours to event categories as you would in say Microsoft Outlook. These allow you to get a better overview of your calendar, as it is easier to relate colours to specific types of events rather than reading all of the available text. Coloured tagging could make the application appear less cluttered because you'd be able to get an easier overview of what is happening in the different windows.

The ability to create and maintain different calendars for different purposes is a nice touch although it does exist in other applications, but it is easier to move between the different calendars in Sunbird. Keeping calendars separate can be very useful especially when you don't want to relay your family calendar to the rest of your work group across the calendar sharing webDAV server.

Although Sunbird is unable to communicate with a Microsoft Exchange server for calendar sharing, it does offer an interesting open alternative with its use of the webDAV server. The webDAV server allows users “to collaboratively edit and manage files on remote web servers.? The calendar is hosted on the webDAV server and is simply accessed remotely with the use of Sunbird as a client. Since webDAV is able to be run from an Apache web server with the use of the module mod_dav, it allows for a fair degree of flexibility for work groups. Users will be able to use existing Apache web servers to host their calendars and will not need additional hardware, additionally they will be able to access it from anywhere that is connected to the Internet. It will certainly be interesting to see how this feature develops in future builds of Sunbird, as it could become a pure open alternative to an Exchange server.

On top of the webDAV server support Sunbird saves its files to Apple's open iCal standard which allows for a degree of interoperability between the two applications and platforms. As of yet there is no support for Outlook's closed standard but files can be imported into Sunbird once they've been exported from Outlook as an .ics file.

It must be seen then, that Sunbird is a promising application from the Mozilla Foundation. It is not a perfect application by any means but it has great scope for improvement alongside some already great features such as the webDAV server support. The real test for this application will be whether or not it is able to build upon its already solid foundation or whether it will only focus on quashing bugs to become a pure standalone version of Calendar. I heartily recommend that you give Sunbird a whirl if you already use Firefox or Thunderbird as it may just be what you were looking for.

Gareth Russell is a regular contributor to OSDir and a Student living in Rural Suffolk in England. Gareth has been a Linux and Open Source enthusiast since July 2001 when he discovered Linux, having started out on Mandrake Linux 7.2, Gareth eventually moved on from Mandrake when Red Hat 8 was released and has stayed with Red Hat ever since. Gareth is an administrator of FedoraForum.org an online forum for Fedora Core support. His other interests include gaming, rock music and politics. Gareth's Homepage can be found at www.garethrussell.com and Gareth can be contacted at gareth@fedoraforum.org


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Re: Review of Mozilla's Sunbird Stand-Alone Calendar Application (Score: 2, Informative)
by Anonymous on Sep 03, 2004 - 07:35 PM
the iCalendar format wasn't made by Apple AFAICT. Their calendar app called iCal uses the iCalendar format in the same way sunbird does, but that's it.

http://www.ietf.org/rfc/rfc2445.txt



Re: Review of Mozilla's Sunbird Stand-Alone Calendar Application (Score: 5, Informative)
by Anonymous on Sep 06, 2004 - 12:30 AM
In the article, it is mentioned that Sunbird does not integrate with Firefox. However, there is a version that can be installed as an extension for the browser. It can be found here :

http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/download.html#install_moz-fb


Re: Review of Mozilla's Sunbird Stand-Alone Calendar Application (Score: 1, Informative)
by Anonymous on Sep 06, 2004 - 05:56 PM
"For example a “New Task? button for the toolbar would be a welcome addition, instead of having to enter the “File Menu? to access it."

I agree that the lack of an icon probably is confusing for new users but just wanted to point out that you don't have to go to the menu to create a new task. Double click in the task window and a new task will open.


Sunbird features in development versions. (Score: 4, Insightful)
by MarkCarson on Sep 08, 2004 - 07:22 PM
I'm a bit inside the Sunbird development process so I thought I'd give an upcheck on a couple of good observations made in the article. The development latest build (not publicly avaiable yet) has a customizable toolbar, so you can easily drag the "New Task" icon onto your toolbar (along with Cut, Copy, Paste, Import, Export, Publish, Subscribe and Print icons). Refer to this screenshot from the Mozilla.org Sunbird Screenshot page. The installed theme was developed as the default theme, so yes, there are plans to support additional themes in the future. The logo has undergone revision as well and will appear in the next public build. Meanwhile, it can be previewed here.


Re: Review of Mozilla's Sunbird Stand-Alone Calendar Application (Score: 6, Troll)
by Anonymous on Sep 14, 2004 - 03:16 AM
The important thing to remember here is that this is in the VERY EARLY stages of development. I have been using the calender for many months, since the very earliest versions and I think Sunbird carries a lot of potential. Give them a chance to build in some of the key features. By the time Sunbird reaches 1.0 it'll be a whole different package.


Re: Review of Mozilla's Sunbird Stand-Alone Calendar Application (Score: 1, Redundant)
by Anonymous on Sep 29, 2004 - 06:16 AM
One thing what would be really nice int the calendar, is ability to synchronize it with PDA-s. At least with PalmOS based ones (as they seem to be more openminded than MS WinCE). This would draw many more users who at the moment use Outlook because it can be synced with the PDA.
I am actually using it as a extention to thunderbird and it would be nice if the calendar could fire alarms from thunderbird too.
Otherwise I like a lot and have been using it already from April and continue using even without the sync feature.




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