Programming - - By Matthew Magain

Google Calendar: All Your Appointments Are Belong To Us

Google launched their much-anticipated Google Calendar today, dubbed CL2 (in beta, of course) and I gave it a quick spin this afternoon.

There have been many cries for a decent online calendaring solution — so the question is: does Google Calendar deliver? Well, there’s certainly plenty to like about it. It has a slick interface and it’s fast (at switching between pages, anyway). But while it contains many features we would come to expect from the Big G, in this instance beta really does mean beta.

There are those features that I would consider stock standard in a calendaring app these days, just because they have been implemented in so many other online calendars (some better than others). Google Calendar has all of them, plus some other nice-to-haves:

  • layering of local and remote (iCal) calendars, and colour-coding of these calendars
  • sharing calendars publicly or privately (ala CalendarHub)
  • inviting people to events, publicly or privately (ala evite)
  • notifications via cell phone or email (US-only from what I can tell)
  • nice AJAX-y drag and drop of events
  • calendars being made available in iCal/RSS (credit to Google for providing this, as many apps only offer import or export rather than a hosted feed, in an attempt to further segregate our connectedness)
  • predictably, integration with Google Maps, although this isn’t achieved in any particularly clever fashion other than creating a link with an event’s location in the URL
  • love those Google Maps-style speech bubbles

Where Google Calendar pushes the boundaries for online calendaring are in the following features:

  • integration of events with GMail contacts: the contacts lookup is based on your GMail address book
  • web search of iCal calendars: a bit like upcoming.org, but Google have indexed the Web for .ics files to subscribe to
  • in-browser notifications: Still not sure how I feel about this feature. I was working on a different tab in my browser at a time that I designated a reminder to occur, and the browser jumped straight to the Google Calendar tab to display a modal dialog box containing the reminder. I am guessing that if my browser was minimized at the time, it would have done the same thing, but I haven’t tested this.
  • the ability to add events by typing English phrases such as “meet Simon for lunch at 1pm”

But like I said, there are still a couple of bugs to iron out:

  • None of the test invitations that I sent actually got through to my recipients. They might arrive one day, but they haven’t yet. Now this is core functionality, so I’m sure they’re working on it, but I did test this a few times and had no luck. Which is a shame, because I was interested in seeing what format the invitations took. Will it be possible to integrate them into other email/calendar clients? Update: the invites came through, but the body of the email is unreadable in Thunderbird! Eek! Unless all of your recipients use GMail, this is pretty useless…
  • Subscribing to iCal calendars seems remarkably slow, and sometimes throws an error minutes after the submit button was pressed. At one point this action actually killed my browser (along with all the other tabs I had open!).

So what would it take to convince me to switch? I’m not sure. Apart from fixing the bugs, how about:

  • Add SyncML so I can sync with my PDA or cell phone
  • Someone write a Yahoo! Widget so that I can see all my calendaring info in a desktop widget
  • Add support for Safari (Opera is not yet supported either.)

Even without these features though, there’s no denying that once again Google has raised the bar. And once the bugs are ironed out Google Calendar will no doubt become the organizer of choice for many.

And then they’ll know not only who you know, but also where you are. You may now choose to be afraid.

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