Make Lion’s iCal fuss-free

Kirk McElhearn
13 September, 2011
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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 behaviour 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 or in the comments section below.

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 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 colours. 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 coloured with the hue of its calendar; now, there’s only a coloured dot. In Day or Week view, these colours are more prominent, but you may want to change them to colours that stand out better, especially for your most important calendar.

You can change the colour of the selected calendar with this dialogue box.

While you can’t change the colours for different events within a calendar, you can change the colour 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 colours. Click on this menu, then choose Other to display a colour wheel. Choose the colour you want, then click OK. The colours will still be pastel-ish in Day or Week view, but you can make them a bit more prominent by experimenting with richer, darker colours.

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 $51.99 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 aluminium 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.


2 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. maclab says:

    What about the layout issue when you have events overlapping ???

  2. Andrew says:

    Calendars are about days and dates. So what is the reason for this vital information to be in small and faded typeset? I an back to busy cal, sad isn t it.

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