Time Marches On: Mozilla Sunbird Finally Approaches 1.0

The Mozilla Project's long-awaited calendaring app is about to see 1.0. After five years of development, the project released 1.0 beta builds this week. We took Sunbird for a spin to see how it manages our time.

After about five years of development, the Mozilla Sunbird 1.0 is nearly ready to fly out the door. The 1.0 beta made its way to the servers this week, and Mozilla’s calendaring app is almost gold.

For many of us, the browser and mail client are only two parts of the “holy trinity” of productivity. Without a good calendar to manage the time, things can get ugly, quick. I’ve used a number of adequate calendaring solutions, but haven’t yet found one that’s blown my socks off. So I’ve kept an eye on Sunbird as it’s developed and was happy to see 1.0 finally coming close.

After grabbing the 1.0 beta 1 build, I fired it up and started putting my tasks and events. In any given week, I have at least 10 hours of meetings (usually more) so it was easy to find items to start feeding Sunbird.

Note that Thunderbird users will also be able to use the Lightning Calendar add-on if they prefer. However, because I’m running Thunderbird 3.0 beta 2, I wasn’t able to find a build of Lightning that would work with Thunderbird. (As much as I love the add-on system for Mozilla products, it really bites bleeding-edge testers in the posterior…)

In addition to manually creating tasks and events, I also set up CalDav with Sunbird to sync against my Google Calendar. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good way to sync Sunbird with my GroupWise calendar server, so I was stuck delegating appointments to my Google account where they’d be synced with Sunbird via CalDav.

For the most part, Sunbird’s CalDav support works perfectly for events but doesn’t support syncing tasks between Google Calendar and Sunbird. Kind of disappointing, but it might not be part of the specification to support syncing tasks as well as calendar entries. In fact, using CalDav, I was able to sync events between Google Calendar, Sunbird, and my iPhone — so I should know what my agenda is no matter where I am. As long as there’s a cell phone signal or Wi-Fi, anyway.

You should be able to get events in and out of Sunbird for almost any other calendaring solution, as it supports iCS, CalDav, Outlook export, and others. Unfortunately, that might require a few more manual steps than is convenient.

There’s some work yet to be done, too. At the moment, it doesn’t support an addressbook (which is desirable for adding attendees) and the help system is not yet implemented. One hopes these features will make an appearance sooner rather than later.

Sunbird is an elegant calendar, but it’s definitely not fancy. You get events and tasks, and that’s pretty much it.

That’s a Good Thing, mostly. I wanted an application that gets out of my way — at least until I need it to get in my way, in the form of an event alarm. Sunbird is easy to use, and relatively configurable. It isn’t quite as complex or powerful as some other solutions that I have tried, but that’ probably isn’t the goal.

This may change once 1.0 is released, though. Though Sunbird’s add-on collection is pretty skimpy now, once the 1.0 version is released, I’m hoping we’ll see more connectors to other calendaring services, and other goodies to make managing time easier.

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