Sunbird … Where Microsoft and Apple Blow It

I just tried Sunbird for the first time. Sunbird is the standalone Mozilla calendar (as opposed to the Calendar extension for browsers such as Firefox). It uses the iCal specification for data storage, which permits separate installations of iCal-friendly calendar applications to share data. My first installation is for personal purposes, a shared calendar between me and my wife to coordinate childcare pickup schedules and weekend/evening commitments.

Sunbird was dead easy to set up. My web host provides webDAV support, which is needed for this to work. I installed one copy of Sunbird on my Mac, another copy on Julia’s Dell, and then pointed both copies to the same remote webDAV directory on our web site. It was instant success! As soon as I post an event on my computer, Julia can refresh and see the copy on her computer, and vice versa. It’s even password-protected.

Now here’s where Microsoft and Apple have blown it. Outlook and iCal are much more powerful applications than Sunbird, at least for now, and they even use the iCal specification to store data! However, both companies want to be the boss. Even though iCal uses the iCal specification, it overwrites changes made by any other client, allowing only calendar publishing, not sharing. Exchange server publishes a webDAV mail interface, but it won’t share, either. So if cross-platform functionality is a requirement, then Sunbird is the only of these three that can even do it. Never mind the reduced functionality. At least it works.

At UHS, our cross-platform model allows students to choose their platform and permits the school to easily extend our within-school architecture to parents, alumni, trustees, and the public without major changes. The combination of Sunbird and a web-based iCal reader with RSS capability could transform the way we share calendar information with our greater school community.

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