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finally, Google Calendar

i've been waiting for Google Calendar for about 2 years now, and was so excited when it finally came out. back when i was on a PC, i used Outlook for all of my calendar needs. that was ok, i found it to be pretty productive, but what i really wanted was a calendar that i could access from any computer. so i started using yahoo calendar again (i had used it years before), and loved the free SMS message reminders. but yahoo calendar was clunky and slow and it really hated syncing w/ Outlook despite the existence of Intellisync. after i used Intellisync for the first time, i ended up w/ doubles of just about every event i had in my calendar. i very quickly stopped using Intellisync and stuck to yahoo calendar alone.

i was never able to fully clean out all of the doubles from my yahoo calendar, so i started using sunbird, the super young calendar program from mozilla. i think that sunbird is now up to version 0.3, inching along… i'm not sure, but i think it may have been merged into mozilla lightning, the calendar that's supposed to inegrate with thunderbird. i can never figure out the mozilla naming strategy – they seem to have multiple projects with the same exact purpose running concurrently under different names.

anyway, sunbird was so new back then that it had a whole lot of bugs, and it wasn't a top-ranking project in the mozilla foundation (firefox hadn't even left beta at that point). i began to search out a ported version of apple ical, since i knew it had everything i wanted in a calendar – multiple calendars/categories, color coded, easy search capabilites, task manager integrated with the colored calendars, all in an aesthetically pleasing candy coated shell. the only port i did find was out there in the open with the large disclaimer that it was most definitely not stable. so i most definitely did not use it. the extend of my mac paint job on my pc was left with objectdock from stardock. how many hours were spent downloading program icons w/ julia at my favorite coffeeshop, spider house, i can't begin to count (okay, probably about 10).

i think i went back to outlook for a little while until my computer finally died for the last time and i moved to a mac (which was my final step in becoming a fully converted cult of mac devotee). at that point i got to use my most favorite calendar program, apple's ical. it was perfect in every way except one – i couldn't sync it with an online version. apparently i had overlooked .mac from apple, which i decided to try out using the complimentary 3 month trial period. i was very unimpressed w/ .mac. for $99/yr, i was going to get: email (i already used the superior gmail, so i didn't care about that); web storage (i already get web storage through school, with roughly the same amount of space, so i didn't care about that either); a few other doodads; and finally the ical sync. ical sync was not as wonderful as advertised. unless there was something that i was doing incorrectly, the ical sync did not replicate the multiple calendar colors as i had on my mac. the online interface was most definitely lacking (granted this was pre-AJAX). there was no way that i was going to pay $99/yr for a so-so online calendar synchronization. so there went .mac.

meanwhile, i was left w/ ical, which i continued to be very happy with. UNTIL… i started working. they use outlook at work, though nobody really uses the calendar component that much. a few people use it, but nobody sends out event/meeting invitations, or blocks off time as busy or anything. basically if there is something very important, it might go into the outlook calendar. for the most part, i have no idea how people schedule their time. now, there was no way i was going to bring my laptop to work everyday just so i could look at my calendar – which has become extremely uncluttered since i'm not taking classes and now spend all of my time building models and working in Microstation. but there are those few times when i do need to see my calendar to schedule things several weeks in the future (and also because i'm actually more productive when i can see my highly stacked calendar – i'll fill it with small deadlines to get moving).

obviously with my calendar desires being common, the market was bound to start popping out online AJAX-y calendar apps. i put my money on 30boxes a few months ago when it launched as it had the quickest and most robust interface. it had the first instance i had seen of text recognition ("dinner with cindy at Aquarelle at 8:30pm next Tuesday"). the layout was clean and uncluttered. i could share my calendar with other people. and i really liked the way the day's agenda printed out. but there were several things i definitely did not like, and knew at that point that i would not make 30boxes my ultimate default calendar. first of all, it did not show a 'day' or 'week' view – just monthly. perhaps that will change, but really like being able to see all of my day's appointments with times blocked out – i can see how close my appointments are really getting. second, 30boxes jumped on the tagging craze. i think tagging is great for many things – delicious, flickr, gmail, even wordpress (kind of). but not for calendars. i don't need to have 20 billion descriptors for my daily events – i just need to know what they are, when they'll occur, whether or not they have some sort of priority status, and the ability to differentiate between different types of events. that's where ical's multiple calendar / color code came in really handy. plus, since things were tagged in 30boxes, that meant that you couldn't color code them. let me tell you – looking at loads of events in a calendar w/o any sort of color coding scheme is extremely difficult. you have no way of understanding which event is what w/o really reading each of those events. extremely inefficient.

following my initial infatuation with 30boxes i partially resumed use of backpack. backpack is great for reminders, notes, and small project organization. of course, if you pay more, you'll get more space for more event creation. one really great feature in backpack is RSS aggregation – i was able to subscribe to my backpack events within ical. very cool. but still, it wasn't a full fledged calendar.

so i was SUPER psyched last week when what i knew was coming, and what i had been waiting years for arrived: Google Calendar. i knew it was only a matter of days by then as screenshots had started leaking over the past month. i woke up one morning and there it was on GigaOm – dear lord it had arrived! i immediately logged on to see that Google Calendar had multiple calendars – hooray! – with custom color coding – hooray! – with text recognition – hooray! – and event sharing – hooray! – and RSS aggregation – hooray! – and drag and drop interface – hooray! – and day, week, month, next 4 day, and agenda views – hooray! – and the ability to import existing calendars in ical or vcs format – super hooray! – and subscribe to ical feeds – hooray! i think there are more wonderful things in store with Google Calendar, but i still have not fully explored its capabilities. one thing i will say needs improvement – loading time. this is probably b/c half the world is trying it out right now, but i'm sure that loading times will improve as they scale up support. one other cool thing i discovered today is that Gmail now has Calendar features built in to the edit bar when composing a new message – clicking 'add event info' will show event creation features that will effectively turn the email into an event invitation. that info gets automatically added to your Google Calendar, and anybody to whom you send the invite doesn't need to be a Gmail or Google Calendar user. very nice.

the only thing that i immediately see as a drawback is the inability to see the calendar when i'm offline. so the only major suggestion i have right now would be desktop version of calendar that automatically syncs with the online version when you get internet access. it could still be browser-based so that there is no confusion on the user's part as to what version is really being accessed – it will all always look the same. when offline, the calendar info could be hidden away in a default folder somewhere on the user's hard drive. the only issue i see with this is if you were to update the online version of the calendar on a public computer, and then come back to the computer where an offline version is stored – but has not been updated with the new info from the public computer. i could see that bothering me and confusing a lot of boneheads out there. anyway, just a suggestion.

all in all, i've been very happy with the first stab at Google Calendar. it can only get better from here, and since this is a space that has been dying for some real innovation, Google's attempt will only goad Yahoo and Microsoft to spiff up their stagnant products (both Yahoo and Microsoft say they're working on revamping their calendar products – or course, Microsoft has been saying that for years…)

Categories: tech, web
  1. April 18, 2006 at 6:55 pm

    google calendar is pretty cool. but the sync with outlook is clunky and far from seamless. for those of who manage everything (with weekly travel, breakfasts 2-3 mornings a week, and evening events2-3 nights a week), it’s just to difficult to keep separate calendars. is it that hard to sync with outlook? i guess it is. my guess is that microsoft will not collarborate with anyone, least of all google. but it’s going to be hard for google to get to a tipping point in adoption when outlook dominates the business and gov’t worlds.

  2. April 18, 2006 at 7:01 pm

    there isn’t a sync feature w/ outlook yet – at the moment it’s only export outlook events to google calendar and vice versa. i’m sure that either google or some courageous developer who gets ahold of the API will tackle this at some point in the future.

    google calendar is still very slow when creating and updating events. hopefully this will be taken care of in the coming weeks…

  3. May 17, 2007 at 10:54 am

    Can you export your events from a Google calendar in vCal format?

  4. May 17, 2007 at 11:21 am

    no, you can only export from Google Calendar in iCal format. you can import in iCal and CSV format.

  5. August 4, 2008 at 10:00 pm

    yeah i love this, too

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