Desktop Calendar

The Thunderbird Lightning calendar works well enough for me. There is one notable inconvenience. The calendar does not run in stand alone mode. Using Lightning requires running Thunderbird. While the inconvenience is not a show stopper, I prefer the “do one thing and do that well” approach. Stand alone also means being portable, which Lightning is not.

Related to this inconvenience is wanting to view the calendar at any time yet avoid launching Thunderbird unless connected to the VPN. That means to view the calendar I must always connect to the VPN or pull the Ethernet cable to prevent Thunderbird from connecting to online email accounts.

Why Lightning is not stand alone is a mystery. The original forerunner of Lightning was Sunbird, which was stand alone. Somewhere along the way years ago developers decided that calendars must be a built-in feature of email rather than only integrate. Likely this goes back to the early design of “groupware” software.

Searching the web indicates I am not alone with a desire for a decent standards compliant stand alone desktop calendar.

I traveled this road when I migrated from KAlarm to ReminderFox and again from ReminderFox to Lightning. While functional, much like Lightning, I never was fully satisfied with ReminderFox because of the dependency on Firefox or Thunderbird.

I much liked the original KAlarm in the KDE3 and Trinity days. KAlarm satisfied the “do one thing and do that well” approach and could be portable. These days I have no motivation to use the current version of KAlarm (or KOrganizer) as long as there is a dependency on Akonadi. Running a database for a simple data format is overkill and wasteful. Browsing the web indicates users continue having issues with Akonadi. Slackware packages are not officially supported by the Trinity developers. I could dig into what is required to compile only minimal and needed parts of the Trinity Desktop Environment, but that involves time and sweat equity. Especially to tinker in depth to remove significant unwanted package dependencies. Too bad KAlarm is not a stand alone Qt app rather than having KDE dependencies. I am not ruling out using the Trinity version of KAlarm, but that probably is leaning toward last resort options and several rainy day afternoons.

I prefer full iCalendar data format (*.ics) compatibility. Exporting my Lightning calendar indicates about 7 dozen reminder events. While not an enterprise volume of calendar events, there is no way I am going to spend time manually recreating all events in another tool.

Desirable features include:

  • Self hosted or local/desktop oriented.
  • No data is stored online on other people’s computers.
  • No esoteric requirements.
  • Able to postpone reminders by minutes, hours, or days.
  • Able to display upcoming events beyond the current day.
  • Notifications.
  • Ideally start minimized in the system tray.
  • Reasonable user interface.

One option is creating an empty “dummy” Thunderbird profile only to run Lightning. One caveat is Thunderbird is designed to be annoying as Hell until at least one mail account is defined. That could be a system spool account, but Movemail support was removed from version 87. I am not using that version, but the proverbial handwriting is on the wall.

I could create a Thunderbird profile using only ISP assigned email addresses. That option would not interfere with my ISP snooping prevention effort, but using a second profile introduces the challenge of inadvertently launching the wrong Thunderbird profile when not connected to the VPN.

A notable inconvenience with running a second profile is minimizing Thunderbird to the system tray is not supported on Linux systems. While currently I survive without such a feature, that would be desirable with a stand alone calendar.

Once upon a time I might have looked at Orage. Today the software no longer is supported or part of Xfce. That does not mean I cannot compile on my own, only that eventually the software will break because of changes in dependencies. That all is moot anyway because my previous experience with Orage was unfavorable.

I tested Osmo. The tool has its own data format but is supposed to provide limited support for importing iCalendar (*.ics) files. I learned that “importing” ics files actually means viewing the files in read-only mode. With some scripting an ics file could be converted to the Osmo XML file format, but after spending about an hour with the software I found the interface and design confusing and decided to move on with my life.

Some people might offer the idea of a local calendar server, such as NextCloud or radicale. Those options still need clients to display the calendar.

Other options might include calcurse or remind. Odd how people sometimes revert to the command line (text user interface — TUI) to do what most desktop graphical user interface (GUI) software often fail to do — do one thing and do that well. These tools use their own data format too.

I am not naive that designing a robust calendar tool is challenging. That doesn’t change that the lack of such stand alone tools is frustrating.

I am still thinking about this.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General, Thunderbird

Next: Disaster Recovery Testing — 1

Previous: Speed Tests Redux