How to make Lion's iCal less annoying

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Few aspects of Mac OS X Lion have sparked more indignation than the changes made to iCal ( ), Apple’s bundled calendar application. Not only is the program’s interface strongly influenced by the iPhone and iPad, but the behavior of the program has been altered in ways that can irk even the most occasional iCal users, as well as those who build their lives around it. We asked a number of Macworld editors what their gripes were, and set out to find solutions. Here are the top iCal annoyances with Lion. Have more? Share them in the forums.

Q: Why do events default to all-day events, and how can I change this?

A: The default for events depends on which calendar view you use. In previous versions of iCal, double-clicking created a new, one-hour event, no matter which view you used. In Lion, double-clicking in Month view—click on one of the buttons at the top of the window to switch between Day, Week, Month and Year— creates a new all-day event, whereas doing this in Day or Week view makes a one-hour event. To change this event, edit it. Select the event, press Command-I, and then make changes in the Info window. (Alternatively, you can also press Command-E for the Edit Event window.)

If you double-click to create an event in Month view, and then type a time along with the name of the event (Read Walden 8pm), iCal will create a one-hour event at the time you specify.

Add a new event
Add a new event quickly with this popup. Enter a time and the event will default to one hour long.
If you’re in month view—as well as in other views—you can also press Command-N (or click the + button) to display the Create Quick Event box at the top-left of the iCal window. Then type some text in the field to create an event. For example, type Beans for dinner 9/29 and an all-day event appears on that date. If you add a time when you do this (Beans for dinner 9/29 6pm), the event will default to a one-hour event. You can change the details, of course, in the Info popup that displays after you press Return. (Note: if you don’t specify a date in this popup, the event will be added to the current day; you can specify a specific date by entering a day or date in the popup.)

Q: The default duration for new events is one hour. Can I change this?

A: Not using iCal’s interface or preferences, but, as often, there’s a way to do this using Terminal. Open Terminal (in /Applications/Utilities), and enter (or just copy and paste) the following text if you want to set your events to default to 30 minutes:

defaults write 'Default duration in minutes for new event' 30 

Press Return. If iCal is running, quit the application and relaunch it for the change to take effect.

If you want a different duration, replace “30” with something else. If you want to change this back to the one-hour default, run the same command with 60 as the duration.

Q: I hate the pastels iCal uses as default event colors. How can I change this?

A: In iCal’s Month view, events are hard to differentiate. In the past, the entire space taken up by an event was colored with the hue of its calendar; now, there’s only a colored dot. In Day or Week view, these colors are more prominent, but you may want to change them to colors that stand out better, especially for your most important calendar.

Calendar color change
You can change the color of the selected calendar with this dialog box.
While you can’t change the colors for different events within a calendar, you can change the color of a calendar and all its events. To do this, click on the Calendars button at the top left of the iCal window; right-click on a calendar, and choose Get Info. To the right of the calendar’s name is a popup menu that lets you choose colors. Click on this menu, then choose Other to display a color wheel. Choose the color you want, then click OK. The colors will still be pastel-ish in Day or Week view, but you can make them a bit more prominent by experimenting with richer, darker colors.

Q: I want to show the Calendars sidebar all the time as I could in previous versions of iCal. Can I?

A: Nope. Cupertino thinks you don’t need to see this. Sorry.

You could choose an alternate calendar program, such as BusyMac’s $50 BusyCal ( ), which not only looks like iCal did before, but offers some additional features that you may find useful. (I like the ability to see the weather in my BusyCal calendars. Multi-user editing is also nice.)

Q: How can I get rid of that wretched desk calendar theme?

A: A recent Mac Gem pick, Lion Tweaks 1.3 (donation requested;  ) lets you replace the leather desk calendar theme with a more subtle aluminum look. You use this kind of tweaking utility at your own risk, though, as it does replace some files within the iCal application.

Q: I’ve just upgraded to Lion, and my events don’t display in iCal, but if I go to the MobileMe website, they do. How do I get them to display in iCal?

A: This happened to me a couple of weeks after Lion was released. Apparently, Apple turned off MobileMe syncing for calendars at some point. You’ll notice that Calendars no longer displays in the Syncing section of the MobileMe preferences. To turn on calendar syncing, go to iCal’s preferences (iCal -> Preferences), click on Accounts, then click on your or account, and, in the Account Information section, check Enable this account.

Senior contributor Kirk McElhearn writes about more than just Macs on his blog Kirkville. Twitter: @mcelhearn Kirk is the author of Take Control of Scrivener 2.

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At a Glance
  • Pros

    • Day view much more useful
    • Birthdays now show up with ages
    • Year view gives an overview of how busy you are
    • Subtle changes improve readability
    • Included with Lion


    • Scrolling all-day events in Week view hides day and date
    • Inelegant handling of multiple Google calendars linked to a specific account
    • Month view still requires switching views to see all events for a day
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