Friday, September 30, 2005

Calendar sharing - for free

So, you have a PC or Mac and would love to either sync your calendar between multiple machines, or share your calendar with multiple users. And, you want to have access to your calendar online through a browser when you're out of the office.

And, of course, you want to do it easily, for free, and without having to upload or edit html files.

Are you wishing upon a star?

Actually, no - there are ways to do this for both PC and Mac. I'll talk about two of them here.

PCs and Yahoo!

One of the easiest ways on a PC to sync your calendar and have it available online is to utilize Yahoo! Calendar and the Yahoo! Intellisync utility. Using Intellisync, a free download, you can sync data between Yahoo! Calendar (and address book) and any of the following: Outlook, Outlook Express, Palm OS Handhelds, Pocket PC Handhelds, Lotus Organizer, and ACT!

And of course, since it's Yahoo! Calendar, it's always available online through your Yahoo! account. The only manual intervention is that you must launch intellisync manually to perform a sync.

To sync two machines, you need to have Intellisync installed on each system, and you'll want to configure the syncing on each to determine what should take precedence when a conflict arises. For example, I tested this on two separate desktop machines, in two different offices, and set it such that Yahoo! Calendar always took precedence. But I could also simply have it ignore the conflict or make a note of it and let me choose.

All in all this system works very well and is entirely free. But alas, it's not Mac compatible, so...

All good things end in "x"

On the Mac side, first looks make it appear you must pay $99/year for a .Mac account in order to get calendar syncing abilities. Well, either that or pay for a WebDAV server hosting account, or your own server. But none of these options meet the main criteria - Free.

Along comes a wonderful site/service called the iCal Exchange at iCal Exchange allows you to publish your iCal .ics files to their WebDAV server and then other people/machines can subscribe to your calendar. The great bonus of iCalx is that the site also provides a slick HTML interface to let you view your calendars online, as well as simply using the publish/subscribe feature.

In my tests, my wife has her iCal calendar set to "Publish" and she subscribes to my calendar. My iCal is set to publish mine and subscribe to my wife's. So, in essence, we always see one unified synchronized calendar in iCal.

The only downfall to this approach (as opposed to the .Sync approach on .Mac) is that you cannot physically change entries on "subscribed" calendars (ie. I can't change my wife's calendar items and she can't change mine) and when viewing the HTML version online at iCalx, we actually see two separate calendars.

But, hey... for free I'll take it!

Note that this approach should, in theory, also work across platforms (syncing a PC to a Mac) if you're using either Calendar or Sunbird from as your primary calendar software on the PC - since they are both based on publishing and subscribing to .ics files, just like iCal. However, I had mixed results in my initial tests. But these products are still in Beta, and will no doubt evolve over time.

Enjoy your scheduling!


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