Your editor is, at times, a creature of habit. Many, many years ago, back
when Tcl and Tk were new and exciting, he discovered a simple calendar
called "ical" and he has been using it ever since. ical may be old and
unmaintained, but it works
. It provides a basic calendar,
appointment book, and task list without taking up too much screen space or
system resources. Its interface is quick and does not require lots of
clicking and form filling. It does exactly what it needs to do.
Creatures of habit, perhaps, should not run Debian unstable on their
desktops. Your editor has learned to scrutinize every dist-upgrade
carefully before turning it loose, but he missed the one that deleted ical
from his system. Some investigation turned up that, in fact, ical has not
been part of Debian for some time; it had been removed as being obsolete,
unmaintained, and superseded by better alternatives. ical was able to
continue to exist for years, however, until some recent change in unstable
forced its removal.
After scrambling to copy his calendar file to another system, your editor
decided it was time to investigate some of these newer, better
alternatives. The results, it must be said, were somewhat disappointing.
The new crop of desktop calendars may be impressive to look at, but few of
them have achieved the straightforward ease of use and unobtrusiveness that
ical had almost fifteen years ago. Fortunately, the news is not all bad.
The first stop in such a search almost has to be Evolution.
Ximian's high-profile groupware system is, doubtless, highly useful for
busy people who must juggle meetings and share their schedules with
others. One of the big advantages of working for a small operation like
LWN, however, is that scheduling a meeting is a simple matter of finding a
table at a local brewpub, and Evolution can't help with that. For one
whose goal is a simple calendar manager, and who has no desire to switch to
a new email client, Evolution brings a great deal of heavyweight baggage
for little gain. The calendar interface is difficult to navigate around
in; your editor never did succeed in reproducing the calendar view found on
screen shots page. Evolution 1.4 also crashed several times while
being tested. Evolution may be an impressive piece of software, but it is
not appropriate to consider as a replacement for ical.
The word is that Evolution 2.0 will feature a much-improved calendar
manager, and the underlying infrastructure will make it easier to create
independent, standalone calendar applications.
The next logical place to look is KOrganizer, the KDE calendar
application. KOrganizer it must be said, is a nice calendar manager. The
default layout wastes a lot of space, but a bit of edge dragging fixes
that. KOrganizer allows for relatively painless entry of events, and it
understands the concept of events which are attached to a day, but which
have no particular time (e.g. "wedding anniversary: have a present or sleep
on the couch"). Alarms are nicely configurable, though your editor noted
that the alarm windows had a tendency to pop up underneath the KOrganizer
window on his (non-KDE) desktop.
There is one nice ical feature that KOrganizer lacks: the ability to add
events without dealing with dialog windows. With ical, it's simply a
matter of dragging an entry over the relevant time period and typing in the
info. With KOrganizer (and a number of other calendar managers), you have
to set the times in special dialog fields. KOrganizer 3.2 has improved
things somewhat by allowing the time range to be set with the mouse, but it
requires an explicit configuration option and still puts up a dialog for
the event description. In the modern, graphical,
direct manipulation world, the dialog window should be unnecessary if the
more complex features (custom alarms, recurrence) are not being used.
Another possibility is a package called plan, which is a calendar manager
based on Motif. Plan has the basic necessary features; it can handle
appointments (but appears to lack a task list). It requires a separate
daemon to handle
alarms, and complains if that daemon is not running when it starts up. It
has two basic views, being full-month and one week; there is no way to get
the "this month calendar and today's events" view that many other calendar
managers offer. Event entry is relatively unfriendly, requiring dates and
times to be typed into form blanks. Plan works as a basic calendar, but
fails to inspire enthusiasm.
A simple, but cute entry is gDeskCal. This
calendar is meant to sit on (and blend into) the desktop; it uses alpha
blending to make itself inconspicuous, and comes with several different
"skins" which can be used to change its appearance. gDeskCal has a simple
appointment manager, and it can read Evolution appointments as well.
Hovering the mouse over a given day will yield a transient window listing
that day's appointments. There is no alarm capability, however.
Your editor was also pointed at "xcal", which is available as a Debian
package but which appears to lack a web page. Anybody who wonders what
life was like when the Athena Widget Set was new should give xcal a try.
Anybody wanting a modern calendar application should look elsewhere,
The final stop on this tour is GNOME-PIM.
This calendar manager, like KOrganizer, handles all of the basic tasks and
provides a number of useful views. Unlike KOrganizer, GNOME-PIM allows
entry and management of calendar entries directly in the main window,
without dialogs. Also unlike KOrganizer, it lacks "no specific time"
events. Unlike ical, GNOME-PIM does not have a flag on events saying
whether that event should cause the day to be highlighted on the one-month
calendar view. There are certain types of events ("it's trash day") that
are nice to get
reminders for, but which don't really qualify as special events. GNOME-PIM
has a lot of potential, but it suffers from a big problem: development
activity appears to have come to a stop, and there has not been a GNOME-PIM
release since the end of 2002. The last thing a grumpy editor needs is to
commit himself to another unmaintained calendar application.
The winner is fairly clear: the only application which is competitive
as an ical replacement appears to be KOrganizer. The KDE developers have
done a top-quality job of creating a focused, highly-configurable calendar
manager which brings in a (relative) minimum of unneeded baggage. Your
editor will miss the quickness and simplicity of ical, but KOrganizer will
get the job done. Let us hope, however, that the developers of graphical
applications will not forget the users who are not interested in massive,
do-everything applications. It should always be possible to find, say, a
reasonably functional calendar without dragging in email clients, web
servers, and other unrelated stuff. The old Unix guideline - a tool should
do one job, and do it well - is best not forgotten.
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