Friday, 22 January 2010

Google Calendar: set day start and end time slots with Thunderbird & Lightning

In Google Calendar you can't set which time slot (e.g. 8 am) you want as your "start of day" time slot - the one displayed at the top of the window - it just defaults to whatever start time it feels like, in my case (at the moment) 1.30pm, though it used to be 3 am; the start time just seems to change inexplicably and randomly according to the whim of Google. A similar annoyance with Google Calendar is that you can't set your preferred end of day time slot either, e.g. 10 pm.

But I really want my calendar to show events from 8 am to 10 pm so I can see my appointments for the day on one screen, without having to do any scrolling. Most decent calendar or scheduling software lets you set the preferred duration or length for your standard working day i.e. start and end times, and then zooms the view accordingly so that you can see the whole day in one window - but inexplicably not Google Calendar, despite lots and lots of user requests for it (those were just some from 2009 alone).

I don't consider Google Calendar properly usable as an enterprise app without this fundamental feature (I'd much rather have the ability to set start of the day than "Week starts on"), although clearly Google Apps has been taken on by many organisations, presumably because it's cheaper than Outlook / Exchange etc.

The workaround? My tip is to use Thunderbird, the free open source email software, with the free Lightning extension, to access your Google Calendar. (This only works on computers where you can instal Thunderbird, of course.) Upgrading to Thunderbird 3 was painful but it seems to be behaving now.

  1. Download Thunderbird and install it
  2. Install Lightning (the calendaring extension)
  3. Install Provider for Google Calendar (this plugin makes Thunderbird & Lightning work with Google Calendar)
  4. You can then view your calendar through the View menu, and in the latest version of Thunderbird it opens in a separate tab
  5. Add your Google Calendar to Thunderbird (rightclick on XML or ICAL and save the link to paste when adding the calendar address; if you choose one of the Private Address links you shouldn't have to enter username/password)
  6. In Thunderbird go to menu Tools > Options, click the Lightning icon at the top of the popup, then the Views sub-tab:

  7. Here you can set day start and day end times (and number of hours to show at a time too), then OK to save it. In the General sub tab you can set the Default event length - just look through the sub tabs to see what you can set. Much better than Google Calendar in a browser!
  8. Another tip - Ctrl-Tab works to switch tabs in Thunderbird (from email to calendar) as in Firefox etc; also Ctrl-1 takes you to the first tab, Ctrl-2 to the second, and so on.

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