Monday, February 27, 2006

(Not) waiting for Outlook 12

I'm not a beta tester. Unlike the days when the InfoWorld Test Center paid my salary, my current workload just doesn't allow time for it. But my rants against Microsoft Outlook finally attracted a response from Microsoft, and it's all centered around Outlook 12.

The email came from Cameron Stillion, and with his permission, I hereby reprint it in its entirety:


I was recently forwarded a link to your blog. Overall, I'd say you're spot-on, with a slightly sharp edge toward Redmond... but that's not a huge surprise. You do seem to have some up-to-date information on Windows plans, especially Vista - but I'm surprised that you aren't more tuned into the Outlook support for iCal that is already in Beta as we speak. Are you on the Office 12 beta? Huge improvements in iCal parsing, support for subscriptions via webcal://, and even publishing using iCalendar. I'm only saying this because I'm the dev lead over these features and built many of them with my own hands. Call it personal pride in one's workmanship. :)

As for Vista and their plans? You'd like to think we're all one big happy family up here - but the fact of the matter is that it is just as difficult to get different vendors to behave nicely together as it is to get disparate product groups to agree on market focus, interoperability, and a cohesive grand unified user story.

A little good news, a little bad news. Isn't that life in a nutshell?

Cameron Stillion
Microsoft Office
Outlook Development

Thanks, Cameron, for responding to my interoperability concerns on behalf of the Outlook team, at long last. Again, I've no intention of trying Outlook 12 beta for the reasons I gave above. The solution to this problem cannot merely be to get everyone to upgrade to Outlook 12. I would, of course, welcome reports from independent readers of Calendar Swamp. Does the Outlook 12 beta solve your Outlook calendar interoperability problems?

My hunch is that Outlook is getting pretty good at subscribing to iCal-based calendars, but probably still has trouble when those calendars try to subscribe to it. It sounds like some progress is happening even here, however.

As for Cameron's comments about the Vista team and the Outlook team not being on the same page, I think that speaks for itself.

I encourage Cameron, or other members of the Outlook team, to start blogging so Outlook customers can have a broader dialog with the company about calendar interoperability. I also hope that dialog includes the interoperability needs of gazillions of Outlook users who don't plan on upgrading to Outlook 12 for a long time to come, for a variety of reasons, including the cost and complexity of upgrading.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Eventful at Etech

Heads up, calendar fans: Brian Dear of Eventful will "unveil and demo a major new feature" at Etech on March 8 in San Diego. More interoperability, I hope?

Friday, February 17, 2006

The OSAF perspective

Lisa Dusseault of OSAF -- which some believe are building the biggest calendar interoperability solution of them all -- dampens and revives expectations in this IT Conversations podcast I recorded in December, just released.

Monday, February 13, 2006

'Remote Calendars' drains more swamp

From the 30 Boxes blog: "Mike has found a great piece of software that lets you subscribe to your 30 Boxes iCal feed (in My Settings > Syndication) in Microsoft Outlook!" It's called Remote Calendars and it indeed does what 30 Boxes says it does. Give it a SwampDrain factor of +3. It implements what Microsoft demoed last year at Gnomedex, only in open source. Hooray!

Unfortunately, it still requires you to publish your calendar to the Web on a page, and worse yet, without any access control available for that page.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Wireless data still = $

A few days ago I posted something here about a mobile phone service provider lowering prices on its unlimited wireless data plan. Unfortunately, I got the price wrong. So I deleted the post. I'm sure it'll be around forever due to various RSS scraping services and aggregators. But this is my way of utterly disavowing that post.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Microsoft creating new calendar swamp in Windows Vista?

I had questions, Microsoft's Steve Makofsky has some answers (scroll down to the 11th comment) regarding Windows Calendar in Vista:
"'Outlook Sync': To be honest, we're not sure that most users will be running *both* Windows Calendar and Outlook. Windows Calendar is designed for personal calendaring, while Outlook 2007 has more advanced calendaring features, especially for groups running Exchange. You'll be able to import Windows Calendar calendars into Outlook by simply opening these files from within Outlook. However, beyond this import scenario, full interop between the two clients (such as the ability for both of them to edit the same data set simultaneously) is not planned for the Vista/Office 2007 release."
Steve doesn't mentioning importing Outlook calendars into Windows Calendar, so I'm going to speculate that doing this won't be very pretty. We'll wait to hear more from Steve, or, perhaps Robert Scoble will get the answers on Channel 9, which has yet to do a segment on Windows Calendar.

For the overall calendar interoperability picture, Steve's revelations mean more confusion, not less, at least in the short term. Consider this. Millions of people have mobile phones that know how to synchronize with Outlook. None of them synchronize yet with Windows Calendar, though some might sync with some iCal-based services (raising all my privacy concerns again).

So the question may become, how soon will mobile phones appear that support synchronizing with Windows Calendar, and how long will it take to get those phones into peoples' hands?

Steve's comment isn't encouraging:
"Pocket Outlook currently doesn’t have a built in ActiveSync provider to convert/sync ICS [iCal] data at this time. I’m not sure what their plan is for Vista."
It's still mighty swampy, and maybe getting swampier, if you run Windows.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

iCal vs. iCalendar

Wikipedia: "iCalendar is a standard (RFC 2445) for calendar data exchange. The standard is also known as 'iCal'."

I'm adding "iCalendar" to my Google, Feedster and Technorati searches which already cover "iCal."

I'm sure we'll be living with both terms in perpetuity. The Microsoft Windows Vista folks prefer "iCalendar," probably because Apple named a product "iCal." Outside of the IETF, I hardly ever heard "iCalendar" until Microsoft started using the name.

AirSet + Verizon phones via wireless: the cost

Synchonizing the AirSet calendar service wirelessly to a Verizon phone? AirSet's Web site currently says: "AirSet Mobile is a subscription service, available through Verizon at a price of $6.49 per month. Airtime charges are incurred only while synchronizing, which typically takes 30 seconds or so, resulting in 1 minute of airtime utilization." You can also sync to AirSet via your phone's cradle and avoid those charges.

Finally...Microsoft embraces iCal. Oh wait, there's a catch

After months of harping on this whole Microsoft/iCal thing...after watching my daily Google search on "iCal" for months...after trolling around at the Microsoft Professional Developers Conference last September, vainly seeking enlightenment from Outlook product managers and others...after enduring Microsoft lip service in December audio from When 2.0...they're finally getting it, and better yet, I've managed to attract Redmond's attention.

Steve Makofsky, a software design engineer at Microsoft, sent me a comment: "Windows Calendar, which is in Vista, natively runs iCalendar format."

So there's your answer. It's in Windows Vista. So why am I not jumping for joy?

1. Considering all the other hype around Vista, the iCal support in Vista's Windows Calendar has been very poorly publicized or recognized. It wasn't mentioned during any of the PDC keynotes. Windows Calendar appeared in October in Build 5231 of Vista, and didn't cause any ripples outside the Vista beta testing world.

2. Right now, the final version of Vista has an installed base of zero. It's in beta testing and will be for months to come. A Vista solution offers nothing to the existing installed base of Windows users. Sure, lots of folks will just get Vista when they buy new PCs. That's nice, but we want widespread calendar interoperability now, not whenever.

3. How the heck does Outlook work together with Windows Calendar in Vista? Having two Microsoft calendars in Windows sounds like a recipe for confusion to me. They better be totally interoperable from day one, or what's the point?

When I have the answers to these questions, maybe then Vista will be worth a SwampDrain rating.

Software as a fishing service for law enforcement

To me the $64 question is how many people would feel comfortable with any of the new calendar services if they knew:

1. For regulatory reasons, service providers aren't throwing away any data collected by their Web sites. (Pat Helland, now of, said this in a keynote yesterday at the Software Archictecture Summit.)

2. The U.S. government and other governments increasingly subpoena all sorts of information from service providers. Heck, sometimes they don't even need a traditional subpoena.

"But I was just trying to synchronize my calendars because the software wasn't doing it for me...and calendar sync service X was free..."

But as they say, sometimes, when you're up to your neck in alligators, it's hard to remember you were originally trying to drain the swamp.