How to Sync your Google Calendar with Thunderbird and Lightning

Lately I’ve noticed that syncing iCal with Google Calendar is big issue for some of you. After researching this, I can tell why – it’s a royal pain that doesn’t really work. Its like all the pieces are in place but they aren’t connected yet. I’ve noticed there are a few commercial solutions that work but they make use of a third intermediary server and a subscription fee. The bright side to all of this research is that I found something that’s simply spectacular, and free. The down side is that it’s not iCal – it’s Mozilla’s wonderful calendaring project, Sunbird and the Lightning extension for Thunderbird. Here’s why its better than iCal and how to set it all up.

Why Mozilla instead of Apple?
First of all iCal is nice, but like Mail and Safari, there’s other fish in the sea. Unlike Apple’s solutions, Mozilla’s suite is:

1. Expandable
With the encouragement of third party, open source extensions you can add in virtually any function you need. This applies to web browsing in Firefox, Thunderbird for email and Sunbird for calendaring.

2. Integrated
Mozilla allows you to combine its applications through extensions. For this article, I will show how to combine Thunderbird and Sunbird together, and how to sync with Google Calendar (And Gmail!)

3. Cross platform
Whether you are using OS X, Windows or Linux. The entire Mozilla suite including extensions, works exactly the same. The cross platform nature of Mozilla pools developers from all communities resulting in better resources.

Why not iCal?
I really want to like iCal.. Except as a stand-alone application, I found that I never remembered to open it. I tried having it open at login, except it slowed me down and was annoying when I didn’t need to see iCal.

iCal also isn’t portable. Local to the computer, my entire calendar was sitting at home when I needed it most – when I’m at work. Sure you can sync iCal between multiple computers and iPhones.. IF you have a .Mac account or a private server running at home. Neither of which is a viable option for me.

Since I use Google Calendar extensively because it’s portable and will send SMS reminders, I figured I’d give iCal a chance again as long as they could sync together. Thus, I began my research and found that syncing the two of them isn’t easy.

There’s commercial solutions like Spanning Sync and open source solutions like GCal Daemon. Spanning Sync works but uses a third party server and with a subscription fee, it’s out of the question. GCal Daemon is alright, except its not for basic users, has problems handling deleted and moved items, is a bit buggy and it looks like the developer hasn’t worked on it in a while.

The solution:
After weeks of researching and digging through search results, SourceForge, and Google API documentation, the solution dawned on me. Just use something that will sync with Google Calendar, without issues. Mozilla’s Sunbird does this with a wonderful third party extension called Provider by Phillip Kewisch.

This takes care of the portability problem. What about the issue of never remembering to open it? Since I use, and heavily recommend, Thunderbird for email, that’s an easy fix. Use the Lightning extension for Thunderbird instead of the stand-alone Sunbird.

Next Page: Setting up Thunderbird to Sync with Google Calendar.

Comments are closed.