Mozilla Calendar revisited

When we last spoke with Brendan Eich on the Gillmor Gang show, I mentioned that a version of Mozilla Calendar packaged as a Firefox extension was the lone obstacle standing in the way of my upgrade to Firefox 1.5. So now I've upgraded to the standalone version of Mozilla Calendar, Sunbird, and it seems to be working nicely on both Windows and OS X. That enabled me to switch permanently to Firefox 1.5, which in turn enabled me to try out the experimental Sunbird packaged as a Firefox-1.5-compatible extension. Conclusion: although both the standalone and extension versions are in an "alpha" state, the standalone version is better (stabler) for now. You'd rather not load two instances of the Mozilla engine when one will do, so it'll be nicer when the browser and calendar can share an engine, but there's no other drawback that I can see.

If you've read Ray Ozzie and Tim Bray on the problem of managing family and work calendars together, you're probably thinking: "Whew, if they're struggling with this issue, then at least it's not just me." That's how I feel, anyway.

On the other hand, now that I've revisited the arrangement I'm using, it doesn't seem as lame as I suggested when I first set it up a little over a year ago. I can see and edit my own stuff on any of my Windows or OS X boxes, and could do so on Linux as well if I were using a Linux desktop, which lately I am not. I have local copies for when I'm offline. My wife and I can see each other's stuff, and since our style doesn't involve direct editing of one anothers' calendars, we don't run into any locking problems. (But if I really needed to poke an entry onto her calendar, I could.) If other InfoWorlders published .ICS files on a WebDAV share, I could see those too. The calendars are password-protected and, though I don't currently connect through an SSH tunnel, I could if I really wanted to. And while the setup for multiple calendars on multiple machines with both local and remote capability is still a bit bewildering, Sunbird seems to have ironed out some of the confusion. So all in all, it's not too shabby.

I think two factors make this a workable solution. First, I've got my own WebDAV server. And setting it up required nothing like Tim Bray's heroic struggle with Debian. This is one of the reasons I like having a Windows 2003 Server at my beck and call. Its Internet Information Server includes a WebDAV implementation; I turned it on; it Just Worked. (For what it's worth, even though IIS's tarnished security reputation has been dramatically rehabilitated, I don't actually use any other IIS functions on this box except for WebDAV. Other services running on the box use simpler HTTP stacks, because they're sufficient and because I like keep things simple.) There are plenty of other windmills at which to tilt in this life, so when things Just Work I am grateful.

This whole WebDAV/ICS thing is a bit of a puzzle, really, when you stop to think about it. As Lisa Dusseault points out in her treatise on CalDAV, which is the next-gen standard for doing this stuff, most current solutions don't rely on much WebDAVness. Clients just PUT and GET whole ICS files. In practice it's just another kind of FTP. I wonder if we'd be farther along by now if we'd just used FTP, a protocol that ISPs make much more available to families than WebDAV. Alternatively, it never ceases to amaze me that more ISPs don't try to differentiate themselves by offering things like a user-configurable WebDAV service that folks could point their calendars at.

Anyway, the second enabler of my solution is the ability to run (versions of) the same calendar client everywhere, thanks to the common foundation of the Mozilla application framework. In theory I can make iCal, or the "experimentally usable" latest release of Chandler, interoperate with each other and with Sunbird. In practice, my experience has been that dragons lurk there.

So while waiting for Ray Ozzie's pet project to percolate through Microsoft, and for Google to drop its next shoe, I'm doing OK with the combination of Sunbird and WebDAV. Which means that I can finally dig into the aspects of Firefox 1.5 that most intrigue me: the CANVAS (bitmap) and SVG (vector) graphics.

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