Working Toward Workable Time Zones

Sunday, August 22, 2010 

PIMs (Personal Information Managers, what we used to call things like Outlook, or Sunbird, or Lightning, or Zimbra before they were integrated with email) haven’t progressed much in the last 20 or so years.  Actually, neither have email clients.   Perhaps the most essential of our daily tools, these classes of products have failed to progress much at all over the decades.

Sure, email has styled text now and you can compose a message in Outlook using Word, but these wizzy tricks distract from the function of email–communicating the written word.  There’s rarely any reason to style text in email and HTML mail has only been a boon for spammers and a distraction for users.  One of the few useful enhancements is inline images which I do find useful.

The best email clients ever, Eudora and  Mulberry (the BAT might qualify too, though I haven’t used it) have failed to keep up in OS level support. Thunderbird is OK, and pimped out with extensions to enable proper formatting, forwarding, text wrapping, etc. it is usable, though it still doesn’t handle frequent IMAP disconnections all that gracefully (it pains me to admit it, but only Outlook does this really well).

PIM functionality has actually gone backwards as the years have gone by. Calendar programs have always handled reminders and notifications and scheduled events fairly well.  DateBook was great in 1990 and there’s very little useful that has been added since .  In the mid-90’s Motorola shipped a great little PIM along with their TimePort phones called TrueSync Desktop.  You could create an event in a time zone other than the one you were in.  Wow.  Amazing.  The developers actually considered the possibility that you, the user, might have some business in a time zone other than the one you’re in.  At the time, some people pointed to Outlook’s then “dual time zone” functionality as the be-all end-all.  True, two time zones are better than one, but hardly a solution suitable for the whole of the US, let alone the world and the pixel heavy dual time zone stripe precluded anything more comprehensive.   At the time, the official M$ work-around was to change your computer’s time zone to the time zone you wanted to create the event in, create the event, then change the time zone back.  Brilliant.

Lightning (for Thunderbird) and Sunbird (stand alone) Calendar programs have finally incorporated some timezone functionality, you can at least set the starting and ending time zone of an event independently and differently from the time zone you’re in:

moz-screenshot-64.png

It is a start, but the time zone picker is still pretty much unusable:

moz-screenshot-65.png

This is a huge enhancement though, one I’ve been pushing for a long time:

https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=224905

https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=364750

https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=364751

https://bugzilla.mozilla.org/show_bug.cgi?id=364751

The right answer is a simple pop-up menu with my favorite time zones in it.  I can use the semi-infinite list of seemingly random city names as a geography quiz along with Wikipedia to figure out what my favorite time zones are as long as I don’t have to spend 10 minutes scrolling through them every time I’m trying to find America/New York for ET or America/Los Angeles for PT (or America/Dawson Creek for MST, no DST).

Oddly, Lightning actually has a half-decent map view that shows you the time zone you’ve selected, but you can’t click on it to pick the time zone you want (!?):

moz-screenshot-66.png

I really like worldtimezone‘s view as a graphical picker:

moz-screenshot-67.png

Something like this, plus a search tool into a database of time zones for cities would be just perfect for creating my list of favorite time zones.  Even the most worldly traveler is unlikely to need more than a dozen time zones in their favorites list and thus a popup would make selecting the start and end time zones very straight-forward.  Way back at the start of 2007 I proposed something like:

moz-screenshot-68.png

Which is pretty much a copy of  Starfish’s TrueSync Desktop (though TSD didn’t support different starting and ending time zones).  Someday… maybe someday I’ll have a calendar program as advanced as they were in 1993.

Posted at 15:58:40 UTC

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