Ottawa PC Users' Group, Inc.
 Product Review 


You Want It - When?!!
by Alan German

Do you have calendar-envy of your friends who run the full-blown blown version of Outlook rather than Outlook Express? If so, open-source technology can provide an answer. You need Sunbird – “a cross platform standalone calendar application based on Mozilla's XUL user interface language”.

The software can be downloaded as a 6.8 MB ZIP file. The installation instructions, contained in a readme.txt file, are a little confusing as they refer to “Mozilla” rather than to Sunbird. This doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me since there is Mozilla Firefox, Mozilla Thunderbird, and Mozilla Sunbird. Perhaps the instructions are generic for all Mozilla packages but, if so, this isn't made clear. In any case, following the instructions to unpack the ZIP file to a new directory (e.g. C:\Program Files\Mozilla Sunbird), and running the file sunbird.exe has the desired effect of installing the Sunbird program.

Use of the program is intuitive for the most part. This is actually quite fortuitous since the Sunbird project is a work in progress, and there is no help file included with the current distribution. But as the release notes say: “...we do not consider it to be a production-quality release. It is pre-release software and should be treated as such.”

The program launches with a three-pane window with small windows displaying a calendar of the current month and a task list (that is mercifully empty!). The largest window shows the single-day view for the current date, but this can be easily changed to display a week or a month, or a set of user-configurable multiple weeks, using various icons on a menu bar.

For my purposes, viewing the current month's events seems to work best. Adding an event to the calendar is as simple as clicking on the New Event menu icon. This opens a dialogue box for the addition of the event title and location, a longer description of the event or associated notes, and the dates and times of the starting and completion points of the event. Other features include a check box for an all-day event that results in the time boxes being greyed out, and the ability to have the event repeated at regular intervals.

The Tools-Options menus have a number of tabs – General, Alarms, Views and My Timezone – that allow customization of many of the program's features. In particular, alarms can be set for both events and tasks, with an alarm box being displayed on the screen, a custom sound played, and even having an E-mail sent to a specified address.

When an event is added to the calendar, its title and starting time show up in the associated day on the monthly view of the calendar. If the completion date is several days after the starting date, the time of the event and the title are displayed on each involved day of this view. Thus, the monthly view provides a month-at-a-glance option.

If you add a task to your schedule, it shows up in the task-list window. If you include a starting date and time, it is added to the task list and is also displayed as a starred item on the main calendar. Checking the box next to a given task, to indicate that it has been completed, literally crosses it off the list – with the text mode changing to strikethrough. Alternatively, you can opt not to display tasks that have been completed so that the list does eventually get shorter!

So, if you need an electronic calendar and/or a to-do list, Sunbird can provide it. While the developers obviously still have some work to do, including providing documentation of the program's functions, the utility is certainly very usable. And, it's an open-source product so it won't cost you anything to give it a try.

Of course, the downside of this software is that your partner may discover the to-do list feature, so perhaps a free copy of Sunbird isn't such a great idea after all?


Bottom Line:

Sunbird 0.3 alpha2 (Open Source)
http://www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/sunbird/index.html


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Ottawa Personal Computer Users Group (OPCUG), Inc.
3 Thatcher Street, Ottawa, ON  K2G 1S6

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