Keep your dates with iCal

Computer based calendars are not exactly something new. Software that helps you keep your appointments and create to-do lists has been around for a long while and today there’s almost no computer without a calendar: Every Microsoft Outlook user can use that software’s calendar. Most mobile phones these days have calendars that can be used in conjunction with a PC. Owners of Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) like the Palm for example, use their devices to record appointments as well as contacts and download them back and forth from their PC.
With the internet came online calendar applications (like Yahoo Calendar) that allowed people not just to keep personal calendars but also create group-based or public calendars.
Still, many people would like their calendar software to be in the form of a desktop application and an online services, only accessible when they are connected to the net. At the same time, users want to share all or part of their calendar with other people. Such sharing can take place at home or in the office: A wife and husband would want to make sure that they’re not creating conflicting social plans. Office colleagues would want to create a shared calendar too to coordinate meetings and deadlines.
But while it is easy to share a standard text document or a picture across computers, different calendars applications usually have different file formats, making it cumbersome to share calendars across different applications, let alone different operating systems. So much for internet based sharing of information!
That’s why, in the late 1990s, a group of people decided to create a so-called ‘open standard’ for calendaring and make it available freely to any developer of a calendaring application.
The standard is called iCal and it was taken up by the Mozilla open source project, well known for its open source web browser (see www.mozilla.org/projects/calendar/ ). PC and Linux users can enjoy the benefits of iCal by downloading the Mozilla Calendar. But the iCal standard didn’t really take off until two years ago when Apple Computer decided to base its new calendar software, also called iCal, on the standard.
Apple’s iCal is a great piece of software. Just like other similar product, it allows you to plan your time by setting up appointments, to-do lists and recurring events, like birthdays or monthly meetings. But iCal’s special strength comes from its ability to share information with other users. Beyond the obvious usefulness of enabling family members or work colleagues to share their calendars, iCal’s connectivity has spawned a mini industry of web sites providing all sorts of calendars that users can subscribe to. Want to include all Islamic holidays on your calendar? No problem. Just go to Apple’s iCal site (www. apple.com/ical/) where you will find a library of holiday calendars for every conceivable religious or ethnic group. Interested in New York art events? Just go to a site called iCalShare (www.icalshare.com ) where you find hundreds of calendars covering every interest.
To share your calendar you need to use Apple’s fee based .mac service (www.mac.com ). But other sites provide calendar sharing facilities for free. What’s more interesting is that the iCal standard is being adopted by providers of other time and project management tools. At work, we have recently started using a web-based project tracking system called Basecamp (www.basecamphq.com). With click of button, I now can “subscribe” to any project calendar on the system. Every time I connect to the internet, an updated calendar of project milestones and dates gets transferred to iCal which helps me stay updated on our team’s activities. That’s the beauty of open standards!


One Response to “Keep your dates with iCal”

  1. Hassan Says:

    Thanks Ahmad,

    I just wanted to add for the PC users that they can use Sunbird (though still in alpha phase), and import the .ics file. It worked for me. Thanks again.

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