For years, we’ve had the ability to synchronize email across offline and online platforms. That’s a no-brainer. But only recently have we stumbled across a rock-solid method for synchronizing that other big part of the typical email program: the calendar.
Yes, we know how easy it is to pull down an iCal or XML feed into a desktop calendar application. That’s little more than a copy-and-paste job. We’ll still show you how to do it, but we’re far more interested in the holy grail: a two-way synchronization between your Outlook or Sunbird client and your Gmail Calendar. Depending on which program you’re using, this can be as easy as pie or as fun as a kick to the groin. Our advice? Disentangle yourself from Outlook and move over to Sunbird.
|With Google Calendar, you can import someone else’s shared calendar, a public calendar, or a calendar file on your computer itself.|
Before you start your adventures in synchronization town, you need to have all the necessary programs and utilities up and running. If you don’t have a Google account, open one now (www.google.com). Doing so gains you access to Google’s stable of awesome apps—Gmail, Google Docs, Google Talk—but most importantly, it opens the door to Google’s mighty online calendar application.
The app itself is pretty straightforward. You’ll start off with a primary calendar that you can add all manner of appointments to. If you want to create secondary calendars for alternate purposes (say you want separate calendars for your work life and personal life), just click the Add button on the left of the screen. Select “Create a new calendar” and enter the corresponding information—including whether you want to share the calendar with your friends, the world, or nobody.
Now is the time to separate your calendars by function. Perhaps you want only work-related appointments to appear on your work laptop, whereas you want your soccer schedule and Maximum PC Podcast reminders to appear on your PC at home. We’ll show you how to do this with a synchronization program. Trust us, it’s a lot harder to divvy up your calendar entries after you’ve thrown a ton of items into a single container. After you’ve created your calendars, fire up your calendar application of choice (Outlook or Sunbird).
If you have no need to transfer calendar items from Microsoft Outlook to Google Calendar and instead just want to update your home computer with your online centralized list of appointments, then you have no need for synchronization software of any sort. Load Outlook and your Google Calendar page. On the latter, click the downward-pointing arrow to the right of your calendar’s name. Select Calendar Settings to bring up a list of options and configurations. Scroll to the very bottom of the page to the section labeled Private Address. Right-click the green iCal button and copy the link to your clipboard.
|The bottommost green iCal link is the one you care about. The link above it is applicable only if you’ve opened your online Calendar for everyone to see.|
Switch back to Outlook and click the Tools menu. Select Account Settings and select the Internet Calendars tab. Click the New button—a dialog box will pop up asking for the location of the Internet calendar you plan to add to Outlook. Paste the iCal link into this field and hit Add; don’t worry about changing the URL to webcal:// style. Fill in the pertinent details for your calendar on the subsequent screen and press OK. Now when you run any send/receive process in Outlook, the accompanying calendar will update with your current Google Calendar information!
If you thought Outlook’s calendar-syncing process was easy, get ready for a treat. Copy the same private iCal link to your clipboard before you fire up Sunbird, Mozilla’s open-source calendar-only application. Once the program’s running, click the File menu and select New Calendar. You’ll be adding a calendar to the network, so select that option and hit Next. Paste your iCal link into the location box on the subsequent screen and press Next again. Name your calendar, assign it a color, and you’re done—one-way synchronization accomplished in less time than it takes to drink a can of soda.
|Remember how to get this screen: It’s the same place you’ll go to if you’re setting up a two-way synchronization.|
|To synchronize multiple calendars and Google accounts, just add them into GCALDaemon and use the handy drop-down menu to switch between them.|
If you’re going the two-way-synchronization route, install the synchronization program GCALDaemon. Next, go to the program folder in your Start menu and click the Install shortcut in GCALDaemon’s Services folder. After that, click the Start shortcut in the same folder and then copy this shortcut to your Windows startup folder. Roll your sleeves up to your elbows, head back to the program’s folder in the Start menu, and click the Config Editor.
The subsequent screen of options can be a little confusing—not helped by GCALDaemon’s lack of an instruction manual. It’s an awesome program nevertheless. We’ll show you the basics of getting two-way synchronization up and running, but know that the program has many more interesting features buried beneath its complex shell, e.g., one-way syncing of Gmail contacts, file-based calendar synchronization, and the ability to run programs using e-mailed commands.
Click the HTTP Synchronizer tab on the main page of GCALDaemon’s Config Editor. Make sure there’s a green check mark instead of a red “X” next to “Enable HTTP-based calendar synchronizer.” Click the Google Account button at the bottom of the screen, click New Account, and add your details. Make sure you include your full email address, such as firstname.lastname@example.org. Type in your password twice, hit Verify for good measure, then click OK.
Now, select your Google Account from the drop-down menu at the bottom of the screen. A list of your calendars will pop up; select the calendar you want to import and press the Copy to Clipboard button.
Synchronizing a calendar between Sunbird and Google Calendar is a less painful process than what Outlook users experience (as you’ll learn below). Fire up Sunbird and create a new calendar by right-clicking the Calendar Name box and selecting New Calendar. You’ll choose a calendar that’s “On the Network,” as you’ll be pulling the information that’s being relayed to your computer via GCALDaemon’s synchronizer.
|You can synchronize multiple calendars in Mozilla Sunbird. They’ll all appear in the left-hand menu, nicely color-coded.|
Click Next, then copy and paste the .ics calendar link from GCALDaemon’s HTTP Synchronizer screen—the one you just navigated to in the previous step—into the Location field. Press Next again, assign a name and color to your calendar, and you’re done. Your calendar should now auto-populate with all of the entries from your Google Calendar. Add, edit, or delete an entry from Sunbird and it’ll be immediately reflected in your online calendar. The same is true in the opposite direction, although we’ve found that there’s often a slight delay when synchronizing from Google Calendar to Sunbird. If you’re impatient, you can jam Control+R in Sunbird, which automatically refreshes your calendar with the latest information it can find.
In a perfect world, you’d use the steps listed above to synchronize a calendar with Outlook. But Microsoft’s software doesn’t like the fact that you’re pointing to a local calendar link, so you’ll have to get a little creative. And by that we mean you’re going to have to dabble with a program you’ll have to pay for.
SyncMyCal Lite allows you to synchronize up to seven days’ worth of events: from three prior to the current day to three days after. But we think it’s worth spending $25 for the unlimited synchronization that comes with SyncMyCal Pro.
Installing the program adds a toolbar to your Outlook application. Click the Settings button and select Sync Operations. Click the Add button and SyncMyCal’s configuration options will pop up. Next, select one of the synchronization options in the Operation menu. Choosing the Outlook preference will overwrite existing events on the Google Calendar with any Outlook-based updates, and new Google events will transfer down to your Outlook calendar. The Google preference overwrites existing Outlook events with Google-updated information and picks up any new events created on the Outlook side.
|Fiddle around with SyncMyCal’s category synchronization options if you want to link specific events with your online calendar.|
Make your choice and select the Outlook calendar you want to synchronize. Enter your Google Calendar details in the provided fields and press the Get My Calendars button below that. Select the Google Calendar you want to synchronize from and/or to and hit Save.
If you use the free version of the app, you’ll have to press the Synchronize button on the toolbar every time you want to update your calendars—the auto-sync option only comes with SyncMyCal Pro.