How to Save Sunbird

Since the last blog post, many people have asked what can be done to keep Sunbird alive. I’d like to attempt to answer this question, and also tell you how to bring Sunbird forward (i.e attracting new users).

What’s needed to keep Sunbird alive

On the development side, whenever a Lightning bug is fixed that touches shared code, extra testing and possibly some coding is needed to make sure that the bug is also fixed in Sunbird. In most cases no additional work is necessary, but once in a while Sunbird acts a bit differently. Similarly, when a new feature is added to Lightning, some extra work may be needed to make sure Sunbird can also benefit from it.

Extra testing is also needed for Sunbird. This includes regular testing of nightly builds and writing or adapting automated tests to work with Sunbird. Also some triage work needs to be done. When a bug is filed and there is no note if the bug relates to Sunbird or Lightning, the reporter needs to be asked just this question. Appropriate bugs should then be moved into the Sunbird Only component, which should be looked after in case of duplicate or obsolete bugs.

Some release engineering work also needs to be done when nearing a release. This includes configuring the automatic update servers and moving around builds on the ftp servers.

Note however you don’t necessarily have to do all of this on your own. Depending on how many people are interested in actively working on Sunbird it’s quite possible that you can split the work similar to how we’ve been doing it (backend, frontend development, user experience, release engineering, testing).

Sunbird’s possible future vision

What Sunbird needs is a vision of its own. That means, that new Lightning features should no longer be incorporated into Sunbird by default. Instead Sunbird needs to get its own identity to attract new users. If you have experience with user interfaces, Sunbird could use your help to create a new and innovative way for users to manage their appointments.

A vision we have come up with and other users have also brought up is to make Lightning modify Thunderbird so far that starting from a new profile gives you the option of either a calendar or mail account (or both). If you choose Calendar, then you will be presented with only calendar relevant UI (i.e similar to what Sunbird is today). You will not be bothered with mail features unless you need them (i.e you want to invite attendees and send invitations to them). This would have the benefit of shared features like the address book being available without much extra work.

If you would like to save Sunbird, please drop me an email and I’ll help you get started. Please be sure to tell me what area you’d like to work on and if I can forward your Email address to other people interested in helping with Sunbird.


  1. Philipp, we need do a site .com
    The with a original layout.

  2. not ot rain on your parade, but what are the use cases for standalone sunbird? are there any that could attract enough users to warrant the development effort?
    i currently use sunbird, but my only reason is that the AMO version of lightning is not compatible with the thunderbird 3 beta i’m running.

  3. There *is* a use for a standalone calendar – you will be amazed as how many of my colleague only experience mail by webmail (corporate, yahoo, google…) and don’t use thunderbird (and sometimes can not use it as corporate server can be Outlook only).
    Besides, I’ve never been convinced that calendar and email should go together – most of the task I perform with calendar do not need emails (from birthday reminder to task management)… but yes they should share address book (for invitation to meeting and similar stuff).
    Actually I suppose the merged email/calendar stuff has been imposed to us by M$ (or WP) because of their difficulty with the address book, but secretaries of the world have worked without a need for such integration for decades…
    Finally, and I feel this should be a decisive argument, I do think that a standalone calendar will open up new development for such application that won’t emerge if they are tied with the email software (history of edited files, access to news archive…). Calendar app should not be confined to meeting arrangement and busy/free indicators! Sunbird would allow bringing innovation in the Calendar realms, Lightning will just copy what we already know too well…

  4. My wife and I use it to manage a family calendar and store it on an FTP server. We collaborate from different locations and it can work from low bandwidth connections (read: devices). Performance is better than any on-line alternative. Oh yes of course, I should mention it didn’t cost me anything!
    The point is that this is an Open Source platform that delivers functionality to those who need it – – which frankly should be *everyone*. Search around and there are not many alternatives.
    I am sure I could help carve out a vision… with a little more time at my disposal.
    – Think of Sunbird as a standalone development and dismiss Thunderbird integration for the time being
    – Deliver stable core features as a foundation
    – Deliver unique features that make it a leader and not a follower. Some examples I can think of:
    — assignable images per month like a printed calendar
    — different options for time/date selectors; users choice
    — store a URL with a calendar event, such as a net-meeting or ticket confirmation
    — link (not store) files to a calendar event such as a powerpoint presentation
    — wizards or other simplification tools directed toward family users and corporate users
    — RSS news view directly in the daily calendar
    Furthermore, I sincerely believe that there is a key need for a new address book platform that can be shared between Thunderbird and Sunbird.
    …more when I have time

  5. I absolutely love having a separate calendaring application. And was devastated to hear the stand-alone side of the project being slowed down.
    But I also think that there’s more work needed to get the Lightning integration with Thunderbird just right for me to make the switch.
    Unfortunately I’m no javascript or XUL developer (despite trying to get into it a few times) so probably can’t be of much help from a development point of view.

  6. I absolutely love having a separate calendaring application. And was devastated to hear the stand-alone side of the project being slowed down.
    Same here. I donot use Thunderbird, since The Bat! serves me betterm but I do use Sunbird quite a lot. I am not a developer, but I will think about possible ways to help.

  7. I would love to use sunbird. the only reason I had to switch its because I need a little bit of OS integration (running Ubuntu Linux). Evolution gives me that… sharing tasks, contacts and etc across apps is a nice thing.
    If sunbird+thunderbird+addressbook could do that, i would switch immediately

  8. Horrified to hear of the Sunbird slowdown. I firmly believe that there is a strong reason to develop a strong separate calendar application.
    I do use firefox and I do use thunderbird and I am constantly frustrated by the fact that Sunbird does not receive the same amount of development. Can I assume this is because of the reduced number of users in comparison? I have only just learned from these posts than Sunbird follows Lightening I had always assumed development was the other way around!
    When I try to persuade people to leave Outlook in favour of Thunderbird and fail it is inevitably because of their dependence on the time management features afforded by Outlook.
    Despite this I think Sunbird is the future rather than Lightning. I am not convinced by the combining of Calendar and Email.
    I agree with amxtaylor that there is a key need for a new address book platform that can be shared between Thunderbird and Sunbird.
    Sunbird should be adding features and functionality and becoming an indispensable killer app and this vision doesn’t seem to be shared by Mozilla – I am truly disappointed by this.
    Having recently suffered a crash and lost all the data in my calendars I realise how dependant on Sunbird I have become.
    I would like to see further development of task lists and time management. Proper backup and restore on crash options are also required. Proper web integration so that we can easily export and share calendar and diary information from within the application is also essential.
    Roll on! Although I see it already exists and is registered through Godaddy and with no listed legal registrant! *humph*
    How many users are there? …and how many do we need to get development to where we want it to be? Do we need like
    Sorry for the long rant!

  9. Please save sunbird! I tried using Windows Calendar and the like, and they’re terrible. I need a separate calendar app to keep myself organized, and sunbird is the best around. And if it’s developed, it could be to calendars what firefox is to browsers.

  10. There will always be a need for a standalone calendar program. Well designed, robust, single-purposed applications are here to stay.
    Keep up the great work and keep Sunbird alive!

  11. Standalone calendar is a must. And extensions for google apps and others.

  12. David Higginbotham

    I use Sunbird on Ubuntu and ArtistX, which I have on 2 different harddrives. I really like Sunbird, but as I see it, the development needs to Add an Address/Phone Menu, Maybe even become a PMI (with a Prior Donation for this application), I’m not concern about Email added to this, just an easy application to automatically startup when the distro/OS starts, for me to see what is on todays menu, so I am reminded!!! BTY, Thank you for Sunbird-Keep Going!!!

  13. A stand alone calendar is a must for me as well.
    I work in a MS environment where Outlook takes care of my professional needs, but at home I don’t want or need the integration with email. I found Sunbird in a search for a user-friendly alternative to the paper calendar hanging on the wall where I used to post bill due dates and such.
    I have zero skills as a programmer, so can only encourage those that do to keep Sunbird moving forward.

  14. I too think that moving focus from standalone to thunderbird-integrated is a sad mistake:
    The drive to merge email and calendar seems to be a case of following the herd. Just because outlook combines email and calendar, and therefore lots of users are used to this, doesn’t make it a good idea. web browsing, email, calendar management are separate functions, and a user should be able to choose those applications independently. By the current rationale perhaps web browsing and email should be moved into the same application too…
    But hang on, one of the justifications for the creation of firefox & thunderbird in the first place (over mozilla/seamonkey) was that they were smaller and lightweight rather than wrapping up lots of functionality in one application!
    Most frustrating of all is that it should be possible to have the best of both worlds – to have separate standalone apps that are able to meaningfully integrate at runtime if desired. That this doesn’t appear to be a workable option doesn’t inspire me with confidence in the architecture across the mozilla developments.
    Sadly I don’t have time to contribute to sunbird development – my comments, fwiw, and probably reiterating what many others have said, are:
    (i) lower the barrier to entry: it is a pretty steep learning curve to get into the development of these tools as there is often so little design information available, and the codebases aren’t trivial. A relatively small amount of up to date docs would go a long way;
    (ii) I’d prioritise bugs over new features – for me the killer bug on sunbird is its dreadful UI performance on even relatively small calendars. By dreadful I mean 2secs plus to change day on a multi-week view! (I have just 500 events in my calendar). Maybe it’s just me (though my small test calendars are fine), but if a casual downloader sees this kind of performance they’re unlikely to recommend to friends;
    (iii) project profile – as someone above commented, thunderbird and firefox hog a disproportionate amount of space on the website. The “our projects” box in the middle of the page actually only shows a subset of the mozilla projects! Similarly, it’s unclear to users what the difference is between and, and why ffox/tbird are present on both but sunbird on only one. (This kind of marketing mis-match completely undermines the lightning-is-better-because-it’s-downloaded-more-often argument).
    (iv) funding – if donations are an important source of funding then some kind of feedback on how much is donated, how much is needed for x/y/z etc might be helpful? Or even how-to-pay-for-my-favourite-feature??
    I wish you luck.

  15. A status update would be sweet, you dead yet Sunbird?