Lightning strikes Thunderbird down
While it’s always been an exemplary mail client, Mozilla Thunderbird has always desperately lacked one vital component â€“ an integrated calendar. Despite users baying for this one feature, the Mozilla team stuck to its guns a little too long, wanting to deliver an application that did mail and nothing else.
Personally, I believe that this was a tactical error from the heroes of open source. A calendar in a mail application just makes sense â€“ it’s the one application that gets the most attention on most people’s desktops; the application that you rely on for your most personal communication, business and fun. The calendar component made sense to Microsoft Outlook, Evolution and KDE’s awesome Kontact suite, so why not Thunderbird?
But finally there is hope for us ardent Thunderbird supporters. It’s called Lightning, a new-born integrated calendar currently in version 0.1.
They’re not kidding when they say version 0.1. Lightning is seriously buggy, and lacks the intuitive interface of its competitors. Currently, my Lightning is pretty convinced that it’s still yesterday. Or perhaps Friday. It’s not really sure, but it’s definitely not Monday. (If only it were right.)
The appointment and time setup is as non-intuitive as a Windows install, and as for dragging and dropping appointments: forget it.
While I’m willing to concede that it’s very early days for Lightning, I really expected more. Firstly, a calendar is not the most complex application in the world to code. It’s been done many, many times before, and you don’t have to look far for great open source examples of how to do it right. Secondly, Mozilla has been fiddling with its Sunbird calendar for ages, and Lightning uses the same core components. Then there’s Mozilla Calendar â€“ also using the same components, and also available as an extension to Thunderbird, but without the tight integration. While the “release early, release often” principle of open source is great in principle, releasing so below par does no-one any favours.
The Mozilla Foundation is diplomatically taking a “wait-and-see” approach to Lightning, and hasn’t tied itself too closely to the project. “The Mozilla Foundation has not yet announced any plans to add Lightning to its set of supported products under any name; indeed, such an announcement would be premature, as the exact composition of Lightning is still very much under discussion,” notes the Foundation on its web site.
Apparently, Lightning is expected to woo Outlook users over to the side of truth, light and open source. “With Lightning, Mozilla Thunderbird will have a set of user features that is much more competitive with Outlook, especially in enterprise usage. The primary goal of Lightning is to provide a pleasant and productive user experience for both email and calendaring tasks, largely independent of specific competitors’ product plans. If the result of the Lightning project is an acceleration of users’ migration from Outlook to Thunderbird, though, very few tears will be shed,” says the Foundation. I bet there are a few wry smiles on the Redmond campus today.
Before I’m accused of never having anything nice to say, there is one promising feature that Lightning brings to the party: an agenda window combines your “To Do” items with your calendar events in a simple window displaying “Today”, “Tomorrow” and “Soon”. Okay, it doesn’t really work if you leave Thunderbird on overnight because it’s sure that Tomorrow is Today, but it’s a nice idea.
Oh look, Lightning just messed up my Thunderbird by inserting a large grey area at the bottom of the screen. Time for Lightning to strike elsewhere. I’m waiting for version 0.2.