Sunbird is to iCal what Firefox is to Safari and ThunderBird is to Mail.
Sunbird 0.2 is the first official release of Sunbird and it’s impressive.
Like Mozilla’s other ‘lightwieght’ applications, Sunbird is cross platform with an identical look and feel, while providing support for the open standards and protocols that make interoperability so easy. I’ve been using Sunbird so far only for events and diary entries, but already I can see that it has some advantages over iCal. Here are a few of the key features that make it a reasonable alternative to the Apple offering:
- Provides a nice, almost perfectly clean interface to your events and tasks; much like iCal. You can see a fairly heavily populated mothly view in the screenshot.
- It can publish calendar entries using the ICS format, also used by iCal.
- Unsurprisingly, it can also subscribe to web-published calendars.
- You can also re-publish your calendar back to it’s WebDAV location, or another one, making it easy not only to share, but provide a shared diary that everybody can edit. I haven’t yet examined what happens in the event of a conflict, but with careful use it could make a big difference to the way we share and use calendar information.
- Sunbird has a useful bit of extra classification on events, so you can identify a birthday rather than an anniversary without having to explicitly state the fact in your notes. This is in addition to supporting different calendars.
- Sunbird also supports recurring events and To-Do items, something iCal still doesn’t do.
- We also get a nice summary of upcoming events in the diary as well as the Monthly/Weekly/Daily views which makes it easier to schedule items in, or get a quick overview of what’s coming up without having to change your view.
- A multiweek view enables you to view 2-4 weeks in advance, even if they go over a month boundary.
Overall the impression is one of an application that could actually be used; I get too frustrated with iCal to use it for anything too complicated because I know it simply can’t handle it. The inability to create repeating todo items is a pain, for example. I have numerous tasks that occur on specific dates (for example my VAT return).
Also annoying in iCal is the classification system. I find myself constantly adding a small text description to entries (Birthday, Wedding, Appointment) just to identify whether an event needs more action than simply turning up. It’s a small point, but a significant one if you use iCal for lots of events.
So will I dump iCal for Sunbird? Not yet. The code is still slightly buggy (I’ve had a few crashes, not to mention some initial, critical, installation problems), but I don’t think it’s going to take long before Sunbird looks like a better prospect.