Sunbird is a free calendar program from the Mozilla Foundation's Calendar Project.

Sunbird is aimed at people who like and use Mozilla's other excellent products, the Firefox 3.0 web browser and/or the Thunderbird email client.

Sunbird 0.8 is not nearly as mature a product as its older siblings, Firefox 3.0 and Thunderbird in terms of looks and features and development has been slow and uneven.

To get help with the program, you have to go to the web and poke around (no help files ship with the program, though there's a detailed FAQ). Then again, you might not need much help, as Sunbird is stable and easy to use.

Stand-alone or add-on?

Sunbird allows you to create multiple calendars, quickly enter appointments and day-long events, invite others to these events, and set alarms that notify you that something important is coming up. Sunbird also has a task management feature.

Sunbird is available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. It has a look and feel that's common to all three platforms but not specific to any, which may be helpful if you have to use it on different computers running different operating systems.

Sunbird is somewhat customisable, because, like its older siblings, Sunbird supports add-ons that can change its look and augment its features. In fact, Sunbird itself is available as an add-on to Thunderbird, called Lightning. The major difference between Sunbird and Lightning is the mode of installation. If you use Thunderbird as your email client, we recommend that you install Lightning. If you don't, you'd use Sunbird, the stand-alone program.

My calendar or yours?

Sunbird's calendar is the heart of the program. It does what most other calendar programs do, but it has a couple of special tricks. In addition to the usual grid views for month, week, and day, Sunbird lets you view a week in rotated view, where each day's events are oriented horizontally rather than vertically.

Sunbird lets you assign events and tasks to categories as well as calendars, which is very useful, as it allows you to organise your events in more than one way or to create sub-groups within a calendar for different projects. When you create a new event or task, Sunbird lets you assign individual privacy levels to that task, so even if your Personal calendar is shared with your family, you can still use that calendar to plan a surprise birthday party for your wife without spilling the beans.

Sunbird also lets you invite others to events, but it uses the Thunderbird address book - if you use Thunderbird for email, this is a plus; but if you don't, it may be a deal breaker. The other main weakness of Sunbird's calendar feature is that the notification options are rather limited, compared to those available in Google's online calendar, for instance.

Sunbird's look and feel is not as slick as it might be, but its to-do feature has some advantages: you can assign Sunbird to-do items to categories as well as calendars, and you can track the progress of a task. A nice list view with columns makes it easy to get an overview of your tasks.

While it's easy to get Google Calendar to send a text message or an email, Sunbird's main alert option is a pop-up on your computer accompanied by the sound of your choice.

NEXT PAGE: tasks, sharing and our expert verdict > >

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