Thursday, March 20, 2008

Calgoo Hub (beta): Calendar sharing takes a step forward

I've been in a funk for about two weeks, ever since I publicly killed my book project of five years. One thing I wrote, and believe fervently, is:
Most customers still only care about interoperability, not standards, and software companies have been playing the interoperability game as long as there's been software.
While I was trying to figure out if open standards were going to take over the world -- and woefully concluded that they won't -- from the beginning, Calendar Swamp had its laser-like focus on calendar interoperability. You the readers welcomed this focus, and finally, it looks like we're getting somewhere. And this lifts my spirits.

First, a correction to an earlier post: I have not written about Calgoo before. But I had heard about it from the outset and had in fact exchanged some emails with the company over the past two years. I recall reading this August 2006 CNet article where Calgoo was described as a way to view Google Calendar calendars when not connected to the Internet.

That was interesting, but not nearly as interesting as what Calgoo has become, billing itself now as "the world's first cross platform calendar sharing service." I confess I didn't pay much attention to Calgoo back when it seemed like just another way to connect Google Calendar to other calendars.

But Calgoo didn't stop there, and they now provide the first Google-free, Microsoft Outlook-free way to share a Windows calendar with the Mac OS X iCal calendar. Not to say they don't support Google and Microsoft calendars -- they do -- but they haven't stopped there. And this is good news for those of us trying to connect other calendars, and who are concerned that Google's terms of service leave us too exposed to privacy intrusion, and Microsoft's strategy dictates we use Outlook, which is definitely overkill if you're just trying to share simple calendars.

The new service I'm here to rave about is called Calgoo Hub (beta). Not everyone agrees with Calgoo's claim of "CalDAV support" but I'm here to report what it can do for me, and it's innovative enough to earn Calgoo Hub (beta) a SwampDrain score of +4.

Here's what I did this week. I installed Mozilla Sunbird on a Windows XP box. I registered for a Calgoo Hub account. I was able to publish my calendar to Calgoo Hub. I could invite my wife River to subscribe to my Calgoo Hub service using a time-honored obscured URL technique (not encrypted, but a hard-to-guess URL, similar to Google Calendar's method). She could then see my calendar on her Mac OS X iCal. Viola!

Because River doesn't want to see all my activities, just certain ones, I actually created two different calendars in Sunbird and published only one of them. This gets around the inability (so far) to publish events based upon some set of matching event tags, which to me is still the ultimate goal.

River can also invite me to events from within Mac OS X iCal. These appear as .ics file attachments. In Windows XP, I had to go into Control Panel|Folder Options in the File Types tab, scroll to the .ICS file type, then switch the file type from Microsoft Works (feh!) to Mozilla Sunbird, not off a pick-list but by browsing to the Sunbird .exe. It worked, and now all I have to do is click on the .ICS to have it entered into Sunbird. (I choose my local calendar so the event actually doesn't get shared back to River's calendar again, avoiding creating an infinite calendar loop.)

Ah, but what about Windows Mobile? Well that's still not solved yet, but I've found some new things to try. Mozilla plans to support sync from Sunbird to Windows Mobile, but it's not there yet. I need to publish both my Sunbird calendars to a single calendar on my PDA or phone, not just one, and right now I'm not sure how I'll do that easily. There are some things out there for me to try next, such as a Funambol plug-in, or perhaps BirdieSync or one of the other options described at MozillaZine.

I still want to be able to enter events on the PDA/phone and sync them back to Sunbird and into the proper calendars. I'll probably need proper event tagging or category-mapping on the PDA/phone sync to do that.

No matter. Calgoo, despite its name, is no longer shackled to Google Calendar. And the service is free. It supports Apple iCal, Sunbird, Outlook 2003/2007 and 30 Boxes. Calgoo Software CEO Andrzej Kowalski, with whom I've enjoyed a lively correspondence over the past few days, has been quite responsive to my questions. I'm enjoying having something that just works.

I'm sure more good things will come from Calgoo. For now, check it out. You, the readers of Calendar Swamp, are the finest calendar-sharing community on the planet. Please let Calgoo know how they could improve Calgoo Hub, and feel free to add your comments here as well.

Meanwhile, let's give some hearty thanks that diligent software developers are still working to drain this swamp. No Google required this time, just a little goo.

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