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Sunday, April 30, 2006

Google Calendar Advice

Unless you've been on vacation in a very remote part of the world (in which case, I am truly envious of you) or you've had your head stuck in a hole in the ground for a month or two, you've probably heard that Google has a web-based calendar now. If, by chance, you hadn't heard the news, head over to http://calendar.google.com and check it out.

One of the topics that's been bubbling at the back of my mind for some time now has been a review of the various web-based calendar systems out there, including Google's. I've obviously not gotten to it yet, but Douglas Bowman at Stop Design has written a very good list of

Beside the basic Googly-ajaxy-Gmail-like behavior, there're keyboard shortcuts, automatic reminders, Gmail integration, and a mess of Firefox extensions that can enhance the Google Calendar experience. If you're a hardcore Gmail user, or are otherwise looking to get more out of Google Calendar, these tips are an especially good read. At the very least, it's an excellent look at how extensive this web application really is.

Mr. Bowman does point out, however, the one feature that is so far preventing me from leaping on the G-Calendaring bandwagon: 2-way synchronizing. I noted this shortly after the service went live, in a comment on our original post. If you are assured to have Internet access anywhere you need your calendar data, then this concern doesn't apply to you. If you find yourself having to edit your calendar data while offline (rather than just viewing it "read-only" all the time), then this is a problem. I haven't seen a good workaround yet. Anybody got any suggestions?

If you're not quite sure what I'm trying to say, here's what the problem is:

While it's pretty easy to push your online information to your various local devices, there currently seems to be no way to easily synchronize your local calendars with your Google Calendar account. Making a change online easily echoes to your computer/pda/cellphone/otherCoolDevice, but any changes made on said devices won't get pushed back to your Google account.

Since the Google Calendar API has been released, one can hope that some clever coder-folk will put together some applications to make this functionality possible...but these will likely still be extra addons that users will have to hunt down and install themselves....on any device that they want this functionality added to. Not an ideal solution.

What I'm basically still waiting for (and was hoping Google Calendar would provide) is an online calendar service that essentially provides WebDAV access to the calendar data. Or, a web application that can be installed on your own server (you provide the WebDAV goodness) that can parse AND edit your iCal files. PHPiCal is cool and all, but it doesn't allow you to edit your data online...and it's the only one I've been able to find thus far.

Both pieces of the puzzle are, for the most part, already there.
  • Local software (for offline use) that supports the iCal standard, and is able to sync to remote locations.
  • Web applications, with beautifully executed with very impressive functionality that also know how to talk the iCal lingo.
We've just got to somehow connect the dots.


  • We have a similar problem at the place I work, we use iCal and iSync to syncronise between 8 macs in one location, and to broadcast to a couple of powerbooks off-site which only need read-only data.

    The main problem we have is that satellite (wired-broadband is not available in the area) connections dont run ssl sessions too well, due to the latency of each packet bouncing around the atmosphere.

    Of course iSync does all of it's syncronsations with the .mac servers using ssl. To me this kind of security seems a little unnecessary, and there is no option to run through a non-ssl host, or god-forbid sync with a local server.

    If google calendars were to provide some kind of alternative to .mac, even if it meant paying it would still be preferable. Or if some genius could create a neat little program which would sync iCal with google, preferably in a non-ssl-manner it would open up google calendars to many mac users who are addicted to iCal.

    It would also help if google calendars supported safari...

    By Anonymous Ed, at 9:11 AM  

  • 2-way communication is there, just not in the way you are hoping. GCal can subscribe to a feed, and it can provide a feed to other apps... it just isn't quite ready for the full-on WebDAV syncing. (which, admittedly, is more of an "enterprise" level feature.)

    By Anonymous Mike Purvis, at 8:59 PM  

  • check out Cosmo, it's a caldav server that also ouputs atom feeds and scooby its html frontend.


    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:07 PM  

  • Webdav would be a nice extra, but I'd rather have SyncML, as this is designed especially for this kind of syncing and, more important, is allready supported by lots of (mobile) devices...

    By Anonymous PanMan, at 4:46 AM  

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