Lightning Update

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A week full of announcements:

I’ve been so busy working on the Thunderbird 3 release that I forgot to blog about this new development:  I’m pleased to announce that Mozilla Messaging has engaged Philipp Kewisch, lead of the Calendar project, to help drive the release of a version of the popular Lightning calendar add-on.  The plan so far is for Philipp (who’se in school, but somehow finds time to do Mozilla work after that) to help fix bugs, drive the release, and generally make sure that people who want to upgrade from Thunderbird 2 to Thunderbird 3 will find their favorite extension working there.

If you’re keen to help, let Philipp know, and participate in test days, help QA release candidates that will show up, and if you can, chip in with patches!

Lightning-in-Thunderbird status update

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For some time, we (the Thunderbird release-drivers) have been exploring how to best integrate calendar functionality into Thunderbird.  Time for an update.

The current plan is to work with the Lightning Add-on community to make a version of it available as an add-on to Thunderbird 3 after we ship later this year.  This is a change from our initial plan of integrating all of Lightning into Thunderbird by default.  Our thinking has evolved based on both technical and product reasons:

  • the calendar team has had a tough time of figuring out how Lightning needed to change to integrate optimally in Thunderbird, in large part because Thunderbird 3 itself has been somewhat of a moving target — Thunderbird’s interface model is still shifting, which is certainly hard on add-on developers
  • partially as a result, there’s a fair amount of work left to do on Lightning before it’s ready to present as part of the core product.  For example, it’s not yet possible to selectively enable the task management or calendaring features; the account configuration is a bit too hard to get right for novice users; error messages are still too cryptic — that sort of thing.
  • looking at Lightning as an addition to the core project, it would represent a lot of new, complex code, with a lot of implied maintenance — we don’t have enough developers on hand to be able to take on that commitment at this stage.  See Philipp’s post on this topic for more information, especially if you’re keen to help out.
  • we try to avoid feature changes in between major releases, and limit minor updates to security fixes.  This would mean that feature changes to Lightning would have to wait for the next major release of Thunderbird.  That would be a real shame.
  • more generally, we recognize that different users need different kinds of calendaring solutions.  Just as there are more and more messaging systems, there is a growing diversity in calendar usage models, such as web calendars, stand alone clients, and calendar and event applications on social networking platforms.

Given all this, we feel the best plan is to take advantage of our add-on ecosystem, to allow a variety of calendaring features to evolve, and to allow Lightning to evolve at whatever pace is best for it, less tied to Thunderbird’s schedule.  Lightning is by far the most popular and important Thunderbird add-on, and we’re going to see what we can do to make it better and more successful, both on the development side, as well as on the promotion side.  Also, thanks to Thunderbird 3′s new add-on manager, it will be easier for users to find and install, which I expect will lead to even greater adoption.

In short: expect a version of Lightning that will work with Thunderbird 3; expect it to have more frequent releases than Thunderbird major release numbers; talk to philipp if you want to help!

Timezone meeting

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Note to people interested in solving the nasty problems of timezone support in calendaring:

CalConnect (The Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium) will host a one-day Timezone Workshop on Tuesday, February 3, 2009, at Microsoft in Redmond, Washington. This workshop is intended for and open by invitation to parties with an interest in Timezones, how they are currently implemented and managed, and what to do about them in the future. We particularly want to attract representatives of other industry and technology areas to gain a broad perspective on the problems with Timezones as implemented today, and the relevance of our proposed direction. You do not need to be a CalConnect member to attend the workshop. Please see http://www.calconnect.org/timezoneworkshop.shtml for more information, and to request an invitation to the event.

University of Toronto Student Projects

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What feels like years ago, my friend Greg Wilson, a book author CS prof at the University of Toronto with a deep understanding of both the practical realities of software engineering and open source, roped me into being a “client” for a class he teaches on software engineering, where he matches students with open source projects, and gets the projects to act as if they were typical clients. I have to say, I behaved like a typical bad client. Fuzzy requirements, lousy documentation on our system, erratic email, never around to meet in person, etc.

Still, the two students assigned to me, Mike Wu and Ronald Fung, did a great job. Ronald Fung led a messy part of the project, which was about teaching Thunderbird how to detect RSS/Atom feeds in pages that mention feeds but aren’t feeds themselves, work which will likely make its way into Thunderbird 3 at some point. Thanks!

Mike Wu led the development of a Remember The Milk provider to Lightning, the calendaring add-on to Thunderbird. RTM is a popular website for tracking TODOs, so it seemed a good alternative storage mechanism for Lightning users (alternatively, Lightning seemed like a good front end for RTM users). That add-on is now on addons.mozilla.org. Nice job!

Calendar needs you!

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As I’ve mentioned before, the Mozilla Calendar project, which includes the Lightning calendar extension to Thunderbird, is moving right along. It’s currently at version 0.7, heading towards a 0.8 release ASAP. I’ve asked the Calendar team how I can help, and the answer has been clear — they need more developers. So if you’ve been sitting on the sidelines of either Calendar or Thunderbird and you want some suggestions as to where you could help, check out this bug list. Moving Lightning forward is one of the easiest ways to help move Thunderbird forward — the codebase is in quite a healthy state, there’s an active group of daily contributors (check out the #calendar IRC channel to meet them), the roadmap is clear, and the bugs are clearly marked.