Setting up Gmail Calendar and Tasks sync in Thunderbird

(Updated: added a missing screengrab)

With the latest versions of Thunderbird, and the Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add-ons, Thunderbird now supports full Gmail Calendar and Tasks synchronisation. As the setup has changed somewhat from previous versions of these add-ons we’re going to cover the current procedure in this blog post.

We are using Thunderbird 31.2.0 on Ubuntu 14.04.

If you’ve already installed these two add-ons and you’re synchronising your Gmail calendar, please delete the calendar from Thunderbird (this unsubscribes from the calendar only, and leaves all server-side data intact), and uninstall the add-ons. Restart Thunderbird to get back to a clean-slate state.

Now, using the Thunderbird Add-ons Manager, search for and install both the Lightning and Provider for Google Calendar add-ons:

Install the Lightining add-on

Install the Provider for Google Calendar add-on

Restart Thunderbird to complete the installation process.

Next, switch to the Calendar tab in Thunderbird. Right-click in the area where the default Thunderbird calendar is visible and create a new calendar:

Create a new calendar

We now work through the “Create New Calendar” wizard. In the first two screens that appear, we want to add a calendar on the network, and this should be a Google Calendar:

Add a calendar on the network

Add a Google Calendar

You’ll now be prompted to enter your email address: this should be the Gmail address of the associated calendar you wish to synchronise:

Enter your Gmail address

Thunderbird will then list the calendars and task lists available to be synced. Tick these as you need:

Adding Calendars and Tasks lists

If all goes well you’ll see a dialogue indicating the wizard has finished, and, after a brief delay (during which the interface might not be responsive) your Gmail Calendar and Tasks will be synchronised:

Dialogue indicating the wizard is finished

Google Calendar and Tasks synced

At the far right-hand-side of the above screengrab you can see our tasks lists (only containing a single task in this example). These are synced with your Gmail account.

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Ubuntu installation disk warning

Forking GlassFish Redux: Payara Server

In the time since I last wrote about the need for a fork of Oracle’s GlassFish Server, Oracle have effectively removed the viability of GlassFish as a production system by killing off professional support in favour of their megabucks closed-source WebLogic product. This was a completely unsurprising move, and simply added to the mountain of orphaned and abandoned techhnology inherited from Oracle’s Sun acquisition (to which we can add some more recent additions).

Fortunately, and largely due to the wisdom of Sun to originally open source the product, a new player in the Java app server scene has appeared with what is to all intents and purposes the GlassFish fork we’ve been waiting for: Payara Server.

You can check out their website at: http://www.payara.co.uk/home. As mentioned on their site: “We take GlassFish upstream. We support it, fix it, enhance it. We release it as open source Payara Server.”

Do I have funds or a current use case to pay for professional support for an app server yet? No. Do I want to use the same product I’ll eventually be using in production while I’m in the startup/setup phase, easily and without restriction? Yes. Will I pay for support if the use case requires it, and if it guarantees a healthy product/project down the line in the best spirit of open source? Happily, and especially if it’s from the same vendor offering the product to begin with. Not rocket science, and when a vendor throws too many obstacles in my path I’ll simply switch to an alternative which does afford me these freedoms.

Looking forward to trying this out.

On Mozilla’s search deal with Yahoo

Google gets to get on with the business of locking users into their own ecosystem, Yahoo gets to expand the presence of their competing search engine, and Mozilla likely gets paid handsomely for the deal. Win/win.

cf. https://blog.mozilla.org/blog/2014/11/19/yahoo-and-mozilla-form-strategic-partnership/

Android’s better browser?

Folks using Android aren’t in much doubt about which is the better browser:

Firefox for Android vs Google Chrome Play Store ratings

Custom Firefox Sync servers now supported again for Firefox for Android

Around the Firefox v29 timeline, Mozilla changed the authentication mechanism for Firefox Sync to use Firefox Accounts. Consequently, the setup method for custom self-hosted Firefox Sync servers changed (note that my guide has yet to be updated), and for a few releases Firefox for Android did not support the new model.

Fortunately, custom Sync server connectivity has been restored as of Firefox for Android version 33. The full guide (including an add-on which enables custom sync server addresses) can be found on Nick Alexander’s blog.

Note that if you’re using a “non-standard” port for either your custom Sync or Firefox Account servers, you’ll run into the bug described at https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=1046020, which as Nick says manifests itself as an authentication error. The workaround suggested is to use Firefox Beta, which works for me.

It’s terrific that Mozilla continues to offer its users the choice of self-hosting their solutions.

Firefox Sync on Android

On Microsoft rebranding Lync to “Skype for Business”…

I can’t take credit for this one, so I’ll merely copy it here – from the comments section of Ars Technica’s article on the topic in question, regarding Microsoft’s continued confusing blanket branding of unrelated groups of products:

“Goddamnit, Microsoft.

Office 2013 Professional Plus vs. Office 365 Pro Plus (but with shortcuts that still say ‘Word 2013′)
OneDrive vs. OneDrive for Business
Skype vs. Skype for Business

Knock it off, douchebags. I don’t care if you call it “Microsoft Ultra Audio Visual Communications Utility 2014 1.0 OSR2b Premium Edition”. Differentiating your products by tacking on “for Business” isn’t a fucking marketing strategy.”

Couldn’t put it any better myself, really.

The new Apple Mac mini makes even less sense

In the past we’ve noted Apple’s insane pricing for their (claimed) entry level Apple PC, the Mac mini. With the latest model released in the past couple of weeks, Apple adds another key reason to avoid the Mac mini, in the continued pointless eroding of customer-replaceable parts. In a rather detailed review from Ars Technica, special mention is made of Apple now sealing off easy access to the device’s innards and the hard-soldering of system memory to its motherboard:

“Older Minis had a round plastic cap on the bottom. Twisting it off would give easy access to the computer’s two RAM slots, and enterprising techies with a screwdriver and a little know-how could lift out the rest of the parts and perform further upgrades… The 2014 Mini still has the plastic hatch on the bottom, but it no longer twists off… now instead of seeing the Mini’s guts you see yet another metal shield, held in place with Torx Security screws. Remove that shield, and after you pull the entire motherboard out and flip it over you’ll finally see that the new Mac Mini’s RAM is soldered directly to the motherboard. It’s no longer user-upgradeable, so make sure you order all the RAM you need when you buy the computer in the first place.”

This continues the generally anti-consumer trend Apple has firmly established in their other products (iPhones, MacBook Pros, et al). The removal of easy access to customer-upgradeable parts is especially relevant to small businesses: unless your organisation is flush with cash, can afford to replace computers outright or can tolerate multi-week outages while your faulty Mac mini is sitting at an Apple service centre, there is little reason to consider the mini in its present incarnation.

If you’re not bound to Apple OS X for any mission-critical applications, then the Intel NUC running Ubuntu makes a more attractive proposition at an even more compact size – which we’ll be covering in a future post or two:

Intel NUC compared to Apple Mac mini

Built-in video calling with Firefox (“Firefox Hello”)

After reading Nicholas Nethercote’s blog post about using Firefox for one-to-one video calling, I thought I’d try this myself. Note that contrary to what he’s written, the feature (known as “Firefox Hello”) remains in beta as of Firefox 33 being officially released.

The feature is incredibly simple to try out, and seems to “just work”. First, install and run Firefox 34 Beta. Next, locate the “Firefox Hello” feature under the menu:

Firefox Hello menu item

Firefox will generate a link: simply copy and send this to the remote recipient (who must also be running Firefox Beta):

Firefox Hello link

When they click on the link, you’ll see a notification in Firefox of an incoming call:

Firefox Hello incoming call

Simply click to accept, and hey presto:

Firefox Hello call in progress

You can pop out and expand the call window if needed:

Firefox Hello pop out window

To summarise: no setup needed, point-to-point calling without having to sign up and into a third-party privacy-invading service, and an existing installed base of millions of people. Exciting stuff.

RSS feed reader improvements in Thunderbird

Short and sweet: a cute improvement made to the RSS feed reader capability in later Thunderbird releases – feeds now display with the favicon of the source feed:

Favicon in Thunderbird RSS feeds