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the great Google Calendar switch

by Rob Friesel

Google Calendar (beta) logoBack at the beginning of October, I decided to take the plunge and “switch” from using iCal more/less exclusively for my calendaring to using the web-based Google Calendar more/less exclusively. The reasons for the switch (even as just an experiment) were myriad and had built up slowly over a period of about two years. The catalyst however, the item that really caught fire with me, was when I decided that I needed to be able to add calendar events on the fly, from pretty much anywhere1 and then discovering that SMS’ing “GVENT” already does this with the Google calendar… Well, that pretty much sealed the deal.

As a long-time iCal user advocate, I was reluctant to make this switch. I tend to perceive web-based applications as implicitly less-reliable and thus implicitly untrustworthy when compared to relatively stable desktop alternatives. If this seems a little unfair then I suppose I don’t give enough credit to the stability and/or ubiquity of internet connectivity2. I feel the need to have the information “right there” and available to me whether Google’s servers are up and running or not. Perhaps I have trust issues in that way; it’s one thing for Flickr or Twitter to flake out for an hour (those are just for playtime, right?) — it’s a whole other thing for my calendar app to be down.

Now even with the add-via-SM feature, I had a couple of other questions I needed answered before moving forward:

  1. What about my existing calendars? Easy enough. Export those from iCal as .ics files and import them. A two-step operation, eh? Non-issue.
  2. But what about my recurrence rules? Should have known better than to worry about this… The .ics files store the recurrence rules (and the exceptions and violations); it’s built right into the standard. Non-issue.
  3. What about invites and notifications? I wasn’t worried about losing these. Actually, I was more concerned that they would get imported “too easily” and would wind up bacn bombing my contacts. Not sure how I was going to control for this. And though I took no special measures, this fortunately did not happen3
  4. And what about syncing? I knew that as fail-over, I could set up iCal to defer to the Google Calendar. I knew that if it all failed, I could dump the calendar events back out of Google (with .ics again) and put them back. Reverting wouldn’t be hard. But what about pushing that calendar to my phone? For reminders and such. I didn’t necessarily want to get hit with SMSs from Google every time an event was coming up due. Well, luckily iCal could pull the events from Google and dup them into the syncing engine where iSync could push them to my phone as I had been doing all along.

Simple enough?

So I made that switch. And of course, the same day that I commit everything to Google Calendar is the same evening that the whole thing is inaccessible for about two hours. Universally so? Perhaps not. I didn’t see or hear of any widespread clamor. But it certainly annoyed me. And struck as at least mildly ironic.

But beyond that it’s gone well enough. No one’s been bacn bombed. My phone has all of my appointments. So that much appears to be working out just fine. And the GVENT add-via-SMS feature is teh hawt.

The web interface itself is reasonably smooth — certainly on par with the iCal desktop interface. Sharing with others has proven easier than the iCal-plus-private server arrangement I had going before4. Overall the uptime and reliability has been fair; aside from the one major “outage”, there have only been a handful of cases where I could not connect immediately (and those passed with a brief refresh). Now, I’d been keeping the calendars in sync via a private PHP iCalendar + WebDAV solution but… Well, if you’ve messed around with this at all, you’re already aware of the limitations you quickly come across.

With so much emphasis on syncing and sharing, some folks may be wondering: why not just jump on with Spanning Sync? Well, two simple reasons: (1) it would crash either iCal or the Finder on a daily basis when I was trying it out during the beta period5 and (2) I am looking for a no-cost solution if at all possible. For the possibility of getting iCal/gCal two-way syncing in play, Spanning Sync comes close to “worth it” so perhaps that is our next assignment.

That said, the next question becomes: will iCal Server provide yet another alternative to consider? Only if it lets me add events via SMS, right?

  1. Translation: “from my phone”. []
  2. An old fashioned attitude? Maybe so. []
  3. Yet? []
  4. Which really only helped A. & I. Well, mostly just me. []
  5. Yeah, I know what beta means. The fact remains that regardless of the system I installed this on, my apps crashed and my calendar data was compromised. []

About Rob Friesel

Software engineer by day, science fiction writer by night. Author of The PhantomJS Cookbook and a short story in Please Do Not Remove. View all posts by Rob Friesel →

2 Responses to the great Google Calendar switch

Justin says:

I’ve been playing with GCALDaemon, as it lets me sync iCal calendars (even remote ones) into google calendar. So, one event added in iCal gets added to gcal, etc. While it’s a little funky to install (not just the command line part, but finding the calendar source files it needs to refer to), initial tests have been good so far.

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