Friday, December 17, 2004

Another start on the path to calendar nirvana..

The Calendaring and Scheduling Consortium had its public launch (see the press release here) this week. There are quite a group of people involved - including some very experienced and/or smart ones. It looks promising, but we've seen promise before in the calendaring world, promise in the "candidate campaign promise" sense which disappears soon after the election. I'm always optimistic that this time will be the time things change, but who can be sure at this point?

There are at least two big vendors missing from the founder's list, who ought to be ashamed of themselves - Microsoft, because of the prevalence of Outlook in organizations; and Palm, because they're basically the progenitors of personal information management in the mobile space. Come on guys, it will only help you sell more copies if people can use your tool to schedule with all of their partners! The only mobile vendor I see is Symbian.. are they the stand-in for all of the cell-phone companies? When everyone claims we'll be living and dying by the cell phone, why aren't more cell phone software firms working with this group?

There are, at least, several universities involved - while their scheduling needs may not be the same as Everyman's, they do tend to have a lot of bright student programmers who like to work on things..

The group's purpose though is admirable, and one I support whole-heartedly (it's the purpose of this blog, too): to push vendors to come up with even some decent interoperability so that we can finally use our calendaring tools with businesses, with customers, and with each other. If we can get there, the door will open to all sorts of helpful calendar-related applications in the future, too. Let's just hope we get there.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Calendars everywhere, someday!

Imagine this... you search for an event - your favorite band's concert in your city, a public hearing, your second cousin from Poughkeepsie's birthday. When you find it, with a simple click you add it to your own calendar. That's one of the great potential benefits of calendar standards, which we could do today, except that web authoring tools don't support the iCalendar standard. It's hard enough to get calendar vendors to support it, so that's not unexpected, but it is pretty simple to do.

All that is necessary is for the web authoring tool to create a small iCalendar (.ics) file for each calendar-type event, and add an anchor tag that references that file. Actually, iCalendar files can contain multiple events but let's keep it simple for this discussion. Then when a user clicks on the file, it is opened in whatever application supports .ics files (MIME type "text/calendar"). It works with Apple's iCal program, and I hear with Outlook (I don't have Outlook so I don't know for sure). It currently won't work with Palm's Desktop program, because that only supports the older and outdated vCalendar specification.

Here's an iCalendar example with a small add-to-calendar icon:

Watch Dick Clark (iCalendar)

And for Palm Desktop users, the vCalendar version

Watch Dick Clark (vCalendar)

Try one of them, and see how it works for you. Now, imagine doing that for any event information that you now have to copy and re-type into your personal calendar - wouldn't life be easier?

Monday, November 29, 2004

Just to show I'm not just prejudiced against Palm

I've got problems with Lotus Notes, too. Notes is what we use at work, currently. In general it works okay, but iCalendar support is spotty or odd in some ways. You can't click on and open an iCalendar file on the web for example (in Notes 6 anyway, we're not using 6.5 yet); you have to drag it to your in-basket. From there, it's like a meeting invitation, you have to open it in your in-box, then perform another action to add it to your calendar. This of course makes adding events from someone else's site to your calendar a pain. It's not as much of a pain as Palm's non-support of iCalendar, but a pain none the less. I've heard it will be fixed in 6.5 or 7.0, but I have no confirmation of that.

Monday, October 18, 2004

Why doesn't Palm get it?

Look, I'm not going to claim that iCalendar is the absolute best calendar data format there is. It has issues and problems just like other Internet quasi-standards. But it's what we've got, and I just don't understand why some vendors don't at least provide partial support for it!

Case in point: PalmSource. Since the split, they are the "owners" of Palm Desktop, as near as I can tell. iCalendar has been in existence since around 1998, yet Palm Desktop still cannot open, import or export iCalendar files. They can handle vCalendar files, to a point, but not iCalendar. Since opening iCalendar files would be a major boon- several sites post iCalendar versions of sports schedules, holidays, and the like, I decided to write them to ask for this enhancement.

First, finding where to write was a hassle - I ended up posting a bug report (Palm Desktop does not open iCalendar files) and also sending an e-mail to an address I found somewhere on their site, or PalmOne's; I can't even find that again! Second, all I've received since July was an acknowledgement e-mail basically restating my request!

It's not like it's rocket science for them either! They can open iCalendar files in e-mail in the PalmOS (but I don't browse with my PDA!), so they must have the code to handle it. Also, I didn't really ask for the whole iCalendar enchilada, anyway. All I asked was that they support iCalendar to the degree that they support vCalendar- I want to be able to open an iCalendar file with fixed events and add them to my calendar. This would be a very minimal set of iCalendar components and properties - in fact, I bet if you took a vCalendar file, added METHOD: PUBLISH, maybe a DTSTAMP, and changed the VERSION to 2.0 it would work.

So, Palm, what's the hold up? Not enough programmers to do a 5 minute change that would save hundreds of hours of customer time? Maybe it's more important to support cameraphone and MP3 operation than people who might want to actually use PIM features that you sell? Have you forgotten your roots? And even if I'm wrong, write me and tell me so! - the case ID number at PalmOne support is 200672; I can't find the bug report on your site, so you'll have to look for it yourselves.

UPDATE: When I posted about adding a METHOD: and DTSTAMP: above - that would solve output from Palm Desktop to iCalendar. I tested it by exporting a file to vCalendar and making those modifications, then sending it to my Lotus Notes account at work, and it was indeed usable. Going from iCalendar into Palm Desktop would be slightly more difficult - their code would have to ignore any iCalendar things it couldn't deal with, which is easy enough, but there might be incompatible versions of things like RRULE: for recurring instances that have to be handled. Even so, they have the code to do it in the Palm OS, so they don't have to invent it from scratch.

UPDATE #2: on 10/25/2004 I received a Palm customer support satisfaction survey about this problem which showed "Close date: 10/19/2004", the day after the original post. Of course, I told them I wasn't satisfied, since all they had done so far was restate my problem. We'll see what happens.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

More rants on the lack of calendaring for the Internet

In the course of posting to a calendaring mailing-list, it hit me - it's been somewhere between 10 and 14 years that I've been around office/calendaring software, and we still cannot reliably schedule meetings between two organizations that use different software, let alone use a tool to schedule an appointment with the dentist, the barber, a real estate showing, or any of the other things one wants to schedule!

There is a group trying to come out with a simplification of the iCalendar (RFC2445) and iTIP (RFC2446) protocols to allow this to happen. Hope we get it worked out.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Play That Funky Music - But When?

Ever try looking up the touring schedule of a favorite band, or the game schedule of your favorite sports team, on the Web? What a hodge-podge of calendaring information. Some list dates and locations only, some include the time. Some are simple lists, others are arranged visually like a calendar. In some cases, you can click on the item to do other things or get a better description of things, but in almost no case can you click on the item and add it to your own calendar. This would be such a natural thing for them to do for their customers, and we'd all really appreciate it, too; but I guess there isn't enough profit in it.

Still, I am working on something like that in my spare time, which I hope to spread around to various bands and such. It will be XML-based probably, and will allow each item to have a link that downloads a calendar item into whatever calendar you use on your computer. I haven't worked out all of the details for what to do if you use a web-based calendar tool, but it should be similar. If it catches on, or at least if the concept catches on, someday soon we'll be able to add that concert by the Nine-or-Tenors to our calendar when we buy the tickets, and we'll be on our way to having our schedules improved in the way that e-mail and/or IM have improved our communications (without the spam I hope).

Thursday, September 23, 2004

It's Time!

Why can't we schedule a dentist's appointment with the dentists' computer, while avoiding conflicts with work events and home events? Calendaring software has existed for at least a decade, yet the tools to let my calendar talk to the dentist's calendar have been a long time coming. Why is that, you ask?

The answer, I feel, is two-fold:

First, calendaring is more complicated than it looks on the surface. Timezones, for example, are a huge complication, especially for people who have meetings in zones other than where they live. Describing recurring appointments in compact way is another.

Secondly, all the people who have developed this kind of software have done it more-or-less in isolation. That means that there are a lot of different ways of doing things, and making them work together means finding some common ground. There are some standards (see, but implementations of the standards differ. And all of the vendors of commercial software, of course, want their implementations to be accomodated in any interoperability scheme and they are sometimes intractable about what concessions they'll make.

How do we get this fixed? I think that it's going to take a lot of concerted pressure from users of the various calendaring products. Demand that your calendar be able to work with your friends', clients', customers' or suppliers' calendars, not matter what they use. Try not to buy calendar software that limits you (vendors react to the money thing more than just about anything else). Make it clear that a working calendar doesn't just keep track of your time, but enough of everyone else's, too, to let you schedule things smoothly.