Desktop calendar applications are great if you're always at your desk or if you're diligent about syncing with your PDA or phone. But if you like to travel light, it may be time for you to switch to a calendar that you can access from any Internet terminal. Google's free Google Calendar is one of the most robust online calendars available. And I have the goods on how to get the most from Gcal's advanced features.
Getting started with Google Calendar is easy. If you already have a Google account (for Gmail, say), you don't even need to sign up. Just click Calendar at the top of the Gmail screen, or surf to google.com/calendar and log in. If you don't have an account yet, click Sign up for Gmail on the home page, enter your name, create a log-in name, and choose a password and security question.
Choose Your Views
Agenda view: Once you're logged into Google Calendar, you can quickly switch between day, week, month, and other views by clicking the tabs along the top of the calendar. The Agenda view conveniently displays your appointments in chronological order, starting with the present date, without the screen clutter of a day, week, or month view.
Custom view: The tab marked 'Next 4 Days' may seem arbitrary, but it's a gem of a feature. You can customize the tab to display your preferred time period, from two days to four weeks. Click Settings in the upper right corner of the screen (or press s), and then scroll down to 'Custom view' on the General tab. Choose an option from the drop-down list and click Save.
Quick selection: A cool way to display a relevant stretch of days is to click and swipe over the minicalendar on the left, selecting just the days you want; the main display reflects your selection.
Hotkey navigation: It's easy to use the keyboard to navigate through your calendar. Just press d, w, m, x, or a to jump to day, week, month, custom, or agenda views, respectively. Press n (for "next") or p (for "previous") to go forward or backward, respectively. (Or press the j and k keys to accomplish the same things.) Press t to jump to today's date.
Make Dates With Destiny
Quick additions: Google Calendar provides a couple of easy ways to add items: One way is to click Quick Add in the upper left area of the calendar page (or press q) and start typing. Like a real person, Google Calendar assumes that words such as "Monday" and "Wednesday" refer to days of the current week; and in keeping with this understanding it adds the item to the appropriate day.
Click and go: A second approach is to click a day or time (depending on your view) in the main calendar and to start typing in the box that opens. Google Calendar recognizes most expressions of time (7:00 PM, 7p, and so on), and it schedules the associated calendar events accordingly.
Drag and drop: Need to reschedule? You can easily change dates and times by dragging and dropping an appointment. If a whole month is visible, dragging changes only the day. But if a day or week schedule is displayed, you can drop on any time to change the time, too.
View and edit: Double-click any event to see all of its associated details. You can change some details on this page; but for major modifications, you must click the event and choose edit event details.
Easy erase: Need to cancel an event? Click an item once and click Delete to zap it. Then click Delete (or press the spacebar) to confirm the deletion.
Share and Share Alike
By default, only you can see events on your calendar. But you can make entire calendars--or just individual events--public if you like.
To change the default setting, click Settings in the upper right (or press s). Click the Calendars tab. Click the link under Sharing to open the appropriate calendar. Then use the checkboxes to instruct Google Calendar whether to share everything with the whole world or just a subset thereof. To share with specific people only, leave those checkboxes empty and use the controls underneath to add the names of the privileged few. Then click Save.
You may need different calendars for different purposes--work life and social life, for example. To accommodate such divisions, click Add below the minicalendar on the left. Having multiple calendars lets you establishcustom privacy, sharing, and other settings for each one.
Living color: You can give the text of each of your calendars a custom color (use the pop-up menu to the right of the calendar name), or you can use the checkbox to the left of the name to show or hide events on that calendar. This color-coding makes all of the entries for a given calendar easy to identify at a glance.
Choose a calendar: When you have multiple calendars, Google Calendar adds a drop-down list to the New Event popup balloon so you can specify which calendar should display the new event. The Quick Add box is less flexible, however. If you use Quick Add (press q) to create an item, the program will add your event to your first (uppermost) or main calendar, even if you've hidden its events.
Switch calendars: To move an event from one calendar to another, click the event and then click edit event details. Choose another calendar from the Calendar drop-down list, and click Save.
Public calendars: You can make your calendar automatically display holidays, sports events, television shows, or other items of special interest to you. Just click Add above your calendar list, and choose Add a public calendar. In the 'Add a Public Calendar' page, select a category on the left, and then click Add to Calendar for each calendar you want to add. You have hundreds of options to choose from, ranging from schedules for your favorite sports teams to concert tour dates to campaign stops for political candidates.
Add iCal calendars: Want to integrate a Web-based calendar set up in the iCalendar format that Apple's iCal and Microsoft's Windows Calendar use? Just choose Add by URL from the Add menu, and type the desired Web address.
Change your mind? To hide or delete any calendar from your list, click Settings on the upper right (or press s) and click the Calendars tab. Then click Hide or click the trash can icon to the far right of the calendar that you want to suppress or zap, respectively.
Events and Invites
A young friend of mine recently referred to Evite.com as "old school." With the latest tools for sending invitations built into sites like Facebook and Google Calendar, he may be right. To invite people to an event in your calendar, simply type their e-mail addresses into the Guest box provided on the event details page. Click Save, and Google Calendar will offer to send them an invitation.
If a recipient uses a Gmail account, the event will appear in the invitee's calendar (as well as in the invitee's e-mail Inbox) with a question mark icon. The recipient can click the event and choose Yes, No, Maybe, or Delete directly in the calendar. Invitees can also use the 'Add a comment' feature under 'Discuss this event' to leave notes for the group to read.
RSVP notifications: To receive notifications about invitations and replies, click the arrow next to the calendar name, and choose Notifications from the pop-up menu. (Or click Manage calendars under the list of calendars, and then click the Notifications link on the right for the desired calendar.) Use the controls at the bottom of this page to specify whether you wish to be notified by e-mail or by SMS. (For more about SMS messages, see "Going Mobile," below.) Naturally these settings affect only how you are notified, not how your guests are. They'll have to set up their preferences on their own calendars.
Snooze alerts: At posting time for this article, Google had just added a new feature to Google Talk Labs Edition. If you use Google Talk, the new feature sends Calendar notifications to your desktop and lets you snooze reminders with a single click. This Windows-only utility makes handling notifications in Gcal far more convenient.
Take It Outside
Maybe you need your calendar information to appear somewhere other than in Google Calendar. Google Calendar permits you to print, save, and embed your calendar in other Web sites. The print icon (next to the Day, Week, and Month tabs) lets you print your current view or export it as an Acrobat PDF, whether you have Acrobat installed on your system or not.
If your calendar is designated as public (see "Share and Share Alike"), you can embed it in another Web site or blog. Click the arrow to the right of your calendar name and choose Calendar settings. Scroll down the page that appears and copy the code next to Embed This Calendar to publish the information on a Web site. Click the button for the appropriate format (XML, iCal, or HTML) to obtain the address of your calendar for that format so you can provide calendar access to feed readers and other software.
If you want to be able to check your calendar without logging in, use the buttons in the Private Address section to get the URL for a read-only version of your calendar.
If your existing calendar can't sync with your cell phone or other mobile device, you'll find Google Calendar especially handy. You can use your phone's text messaging feature to get reminders of upcoming appointments or to send new ones to Google Calendar. Though Google Calendar is free, having text messages sent to your phone may cost you, depending on your cell phone carrier's plan.
To get these features, you must register your phone with Google Calendar. Click Settings or press s under Calendar Settings, and then click the Mobile Setup tab. Fill out the information for your country, phone number, and carrier. You can consult a full list by clicking What carriers are supported?; then click Send Verification Code. When you receive the code as a text message on your phone, make a note of that number and enter it in the Verification Code box. Click Finish Setup, and then click Save.
Once you've registered your phone number with Google Calendar, you can use it for common calendar chores. For example, get information from your phone by sending a text message to 48368 (GVENT): Enter next to get the next scheduled item on your calendar, day (to get all the day's agenda, or nday to get tomorrow's agenda. If you send something more prosaic like "Get a haircut at Joe's on Tuesday at 11 am," Google calendar will create a new event for you just as it does when you use the Quick Add feature.
Currently the SMS features work only in the United States, and you can arrange to get data only 24 hours in advance. In my tests, it worked only for the main (first) calendar though I had more than one calendar set up. You can use GVENT with phones on most U.S. mobile carriers--namely, Alltel, AT&T, Cellular One, Cincinnati Bell, Dobson Communications, Nextel, Qwest, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon, and Virgin.
Automatic alerts: To receive notifications automatically via text messaging, click the arrow next to the calendar name, and choose Notifications. Next to 'Event reminders', click Add a reminder to set the default method (pop-up, e-mail, or SMS) and the time to receive reminders. If you want multiple reminders (for example, a day before, an hour before, and 10 minutes before an event) or reminders of multiple kinds, click Add another reminder as many times as necessary to specify all of them. Change your mind? Click Remove next to the reminder you don't want.
All done? Click Save. Repeat for each calendar in your list on the left that you need reminders and notifications for.
Naturally, you can return to this dialog box to cancel or alter your notifications if your current settings aren't working for you. Alternatively you can send the text message "STOP" to 48368 (GVENT) to stop all notifications for all calendars.
Keep It All in Sync
Google Calendar can import data from other calendars in the iCal or CSV (comma-separated values) formats. This comes in handy if you plan on migrating your schedule to Google once and forever. But for people who want to use both Google and Outlook, Google makes a utility that keeps data from both sources in sync with each other.
Import from iCal or Yahoo: To import data from a calendar, you must first export it to a file. For example, in Apple iCal, select the calendar you want to export and choose File, Export. Then name and save the file. In Yahoo Calendar, click Options on the upper right and then click Import/Export under Management. Click the Export button under 'Export to Outlook'. Save the file to a desired location.
Import from Outlook: Outlook users have more than one option. If you have a single calendar in Outlook, it's probably easier to import the data using Google's syncing utility (see "Google Calendar Sync," below). But if you have multiple calendars in Outlook, you're better off exporting them to a separate file one at a time. To do that in Outlook, choose File, Import and Export and select Export to a file. Click Next and select Comma Separated Values (Windows). Click Next, select a calendar, and click Next again. Continue to follow the steps in the wizard. When you're prompted for a date range, Google recommends that you specify no more than one year's worth of data. You may need to repeat the export process for each year that you want to export, importing them into Google Calendar one at a time.
Once your data is saved as a file, go to Google Calendar, click Add below the minicalendar on the left, and choose Import Calendar. In the Import Calendar tab, click Browse to locate and select your calendar file. Then use the drop-down list to specify which calendar should receive the data. Then click Import.
Google Calendar Sync: Outlook users who want to use Google's syncing utility can download it from this link. Once you have saved and finished downloading the file, run the installer. As part of the installation, the program will instruct you to identify your Google account and password, specify which direction (or both) you want to synchronize info in, and state how often the utility should perform that task. The utility runs in the background while you work; you can change the options at any time by right-clicking the Google Calendar Sync icon in the taskbar tray and choosing Options.
Google Calendar Sync is an easy, painless way to make sure that your Outlook and Google calendars always have the same information. But the tool can synchronize only your default Outlook calendar and your main (first) Google calendar. For many people, that's enough.