I Ditched iCal: Ruminations on Google Calendar and Other Web Apps

by Matthew Russell

A while ago, I posted about the excitement I felt when Google Calendar was announced, although I also expressed some privacy concerns at that time. Well, I've been able to try out Google's approach to organizing my life, and it's been pretty sweet so far.

The interface is remarkably like iCal, very responsive, and generally not any more cumbersome than I found iCal to be. I was able to import all of my iCal calendars directly into Google Calendar without any hiccups, and if I ever decide to bail, I can export them right back out and load them into iCal. (This might be handy if I know in advance that I'll be offline for some extended period of time, which does occur from time to time.) And to my surprise, Google renders you a nice PDF of the day, weekly, and monthly views so you can have a more traditional style print out if you find those handy.


2006-06-22 21:22:33
It's interesting, Matthew, that you post this piece right on the heels of Giles doing his investigation of web apps and publishing a PDF on the subject. We were just talking in the office today about which is the better way to go... iCal or Google Calendar? Seems to me if you have an Internet connection in all of your living/work spaces, some web apps make sense.
Robert 'Groby' Blum
2006-06-22 22:59:14
There's one core feature I want from every web app, and that's free access to all my data through an API. I'm really not interested in swapping client-side lock-in against server-side lock-in.

(Disclosure - I've got sort of a vested interest in iCal. I'm writing a haxie for it)

2006-06-23 06:53:35
You folks are nuts for trying and supporting web apps. In the end- you will cut your own throats! You are indirectly planting the seeds for a pay as you go computer system. The OS of tommorow will be nothing more than a browser- instead of the little google window in safari or firefox- it will be for your credit card! And what happens if your internet connectiion is down or worse- slow that day cause of too many users- you cant work???
2006-06-23 09:06:16
@Derrick - I'd love to hear how it goes if you decide to stop using iCal for a couple of weeks. It really is easy to import your calendars and get them back out, so you stand little to lose if you decide it's not the way to go.

@Robert 'Groby' Blum - Right on. I think you articulated that idea much better than I did.

@RichardP - I'm not sure if the economics of a pay-as-you-go system would really be that bad. The benefits would be that you'd (hopefully) always have updates, have little to worry about in the way of upgrades/worms/etc., a really capable machine with a fast internet connection would go a lot further than it does right now with the "need to reload the OS every year" approach that seems to be so commonplace. As for the net connection being down -- I agree that would be a problem indeed. But I'm thinking about this on the same wavelength as the electricity going out every now and then: It does happen, but not very often, and to me -- it's an acceptable risk. I guess that's the key. You have to calculate your risks and factor that into your calculus.

2006-06-23 17:43:23
You hit on a very interesting point on the encryption. Somthing that I have been trying (unsucessfully) to figure out for a while is whether the data you upload to dotmac through the sync mechanism is stored on Apple's servers in an encrypted format. Not that any apple employee is really all that interested in my address book entries, but it would be nice to know that it was inaccessible to anyone but me. This is particularly true about the keychain. I really wonder how keychain sync works. It can't be that it uploads your entire keychain on sync because I can add a keychain entry on multiple macs and then sync all of them. The new entries appear on everyone. If it uploaded the entire file that had been changed on multiple Macs prior to syncing, it should result in a sync error.
Any thoughts or info about dotmac encryption and security would be greatly appreciated.
Saint Fnordius
2006-06-26 01:20:05
I suppose the real issue is where the data is stored, not user interface. I prefer using iCal and synching with my iPod, and not having my data stored on somebody else's computer. I used to use a PalmOS PDA until it died, but the thing is I have my data on me, and don't have to keep calling the server.

If you can trust the server, fine. I don't distrust Google, but I do distrust my ability to remember my password. I don't even use .mac, and my backups are kept in a box that I can lock away. I'm not blaming the company, but to let me have access they have to provide security that is a descendant of "Joe Sent Me" uttered to the bouncer.

I think this will be a bigger issue in the future, as more data gets stored online and more people choose weak passwords. Actually, we're already seeing it with phishing. Why infect the individual PC when you can pull tons of valuable data from the Yahoo! or Google user account servers?

Google Calander is something I might use for a public calendar, but not for more sensitive appointments.

2006-06-26 07:43:05
David Pogue considered and rejected Google Calendar for many of the same reasons in May. article link
Robert Hook
2006-07-03 15:30:48
Derrick said: "Seems to me if you have an Internet connection in all of your living/work spaces, some web apps make sense." Which is the problem that I have been butting up against with most of the web apps, and particularly Google Calendar. My corporate firewall includes some daft off-the-shelf product to filter what sites you can access, and blocks anything that looks like a personal productivity site, including almost all of the Google site. So, my option for sharing calendar data between two locations and two computers devolves to a text file and cut-and-paste.

I'm hoping that in time the workplace will evolve to understand that these web apps are an asset, not a cost.

2006-07-08 20:42:03
We would all be much happier if .Mac would just offer up OUR sync'd calendars for web access!
2006-07-21 21:47:20
I would love to use iCal, as a new mac convert, but if I cannot get to the "live" version on the web, it is of no use to me. My wife and I currently use www.airset.com for web based calendars for family and work. We can get to it on any computer and it is accessible via verizon wireless as a standalone application on my phone. I will be using Address Book in my mac for contacts and would love for iCal to be web based through dotmac , much like mail and address book is. Now I have to split between a different we based calendar, and dotmac for contacts and mail access.

One really important feature for me is to have the calendar app be able to send reminders to my phone.

Any other suggestions? The only downfall with AirSet .com is that is does not now sync with mac???

Mark Scrimshire
2006-08-29 16:35:25

I got frustrated with one of the drawbacks to Google Calendar - The ability to add information from Apple Address Book without retyping. So I wrote a little Address Book plug in.

The link is in my blog entry. Give it a test drive if you make use of Apple's Address Book and GCal.


Having recently gone through the trauma of no Internet connection There is still a role for locally base apps but there needs to be seamless integration and synchronization with Internet-hosted data.

2006-08-30 17:31:02
@Mark: I totally agree about the seamless connection. I just tried your plug-in out and it looks like you're of to a really good start on this. Thanks for the link!
2006-10-25 10:54:13
The big problem with Google Calendar for anyone that schedules events that will occur outside their home time zone, is their lack of floating vs. local time zone support. The most recent version of iCal offers this distinction, but if you set up calendar sharing between the two so you have Google Calendar display a .Mac ICS feed of your iCal calendar, time zones can get pretty messed up. For example, I manage both "physical" events (people will come from different time zones to actually attend an event in a physical space) and "virtual" events (like a conference call or webcast where people will participate simultaneously across many time zones. I want a shared calendar to convert an event into the local time zone of the observer only a conference call or other virtual event. But for a physical meeting, where someone from Australia or Europe will attend a meeting in San Francisco, it makes no sense for someone in a far flung time zone to see scheduled events show up in the middle of the night on their calendars. They should be able to show an 8am meeting on Monday in the US, at 8am Monday for that date on their local calendar, without having to play 'guess the time zone'. iCal has "floating" time zone support, so until Google offers this same support, Gcal is useless for globally relevant calendars.
Laura Claycomb
2007-01-09 10:32:35
I can't agree more with Jim - in today's global use of the internet, you must not assume that all viewers of a calendar will be in the same time zone. They usually need to see when the rendez-vous is, not in their own local time, but the actual time of the meeting, even if it's going to be in another time zone. Google desperately needs floating time-zones

Curious if anyone else had the same needs as me - to be able to EDIT my iCal online. Why is this not possible? I would love my assistant to be able to remotely access my iCal and add/change things, but she's working on a PC in a different time zone. So we make do with Google Calendar, which gives us all kinds of time zone problems, as almost all my dates need floating time zones, which Google doesn't have.

Any ideas on work-arounds for iCal? Am I missing something? I don't understand why I can't have my actual calendar show up on my .mac page. Right now, all that shows up is just a generic calendar with no meetings, and if I click on iCal on this page (logged in and everything), I get an advertisement page for iCal. What gives? Why not let us edit our own calendars online and sync that back to our home computers? If our address books are online, secure and editable, what's the problem of doing the same with iCal?

2007-01-09 16:36:09

You're preaching to the choir here. Not impressed with the fact that Apple has *blatantly* ignored requests from users to make iCal sync with .Mac. That's the single biggest reason I'm letting my .Mac account expire and am moving to Google. If the calendar sync'ing had been nice with iCal, I doubt I'd ever have been irritated enough to ever go to the lengths I have...but I will say that Google Calendar has been nothing but nice so far.

2007-01-15 08:26:34
two-way sync tool between Google Calendar and iCal: http://gcaldaemon.sourceforge.net
2008-01-17 09:23:58
I agree entirely with Matthew's copy and paste mantra. For event scheduling, that is the only piece I feel Google calendar is lacking.

One other piece I would like to be able to change is the guest list visibility. I would like to have a calendar that is publicly available, but where the guests' email addresses do not show up to the public. As of 01/17/08, anyone logged into a Google account can view the guest list on a public calendar. It would be nice to be able to turn that off.