Sep 172010

The problem du jour is one that I’m sure lots of people have run into, and one in which the standard answer is for everyone to standardize on one tool. Since I have this propensity for standards that mean people can choose the tools they want, I don’t really like that attitude, even if I understand the “I just want to get some work done” principle behind it.

In short, I don’t use Outlook. Lots of people do, and they want me to share my calendar with them to make it easier to book meetings. Fair enough, in this one company almost everyone uses Outlook. I use Google calendar, which can share in a number of ways, and getting a basic ICS file from point A to point B is not an issue. What is the issue is the privacy angle, or free/busy settings. Since I have different clients, and different projects, when I publish my calendar on a site for client A, they shouldn’t see the titles of the times I have booked for client B, or for my private appointments. They just want to know when I have free time, anyway. Should be easy, right? Just set the Google calendar sharing options to show only free/busy, download the .ics file that’s generated and upload to the appropriate server, right? Wrong. Google calendar saves free/busy using the VFREEBUSY component. Microsoft Outlook does not import or export VFREEBUSY components, thus when it tries to open that .ics file it throws an error.

I guess I could install Outlook and use Google/Outlook synchronisation, but I also have a Mac laptop and don’t really feel like buying multiple copies of programs just to share a calendar. Next thought: maybe iCal on the Mac will publish the info correctly. I import the ICS file into iCal, set it to publish to the webdav server, make sure I leave off all the title and note info, only to find that what is still published is the LOCATION info, which contains all sorts of things like who’s calling whom, where the meeting is, etc. Thus it’s not exactly just the free/busy info I was looking for, despite what the help file says.

At this stage I guess I’m looking at programming something to take the Google ICS and get rid of the information I don’t want published. It seems a little silly that I can’t readily share a free/busy schedule between systems that supposedly are set up to allow subscriptions to other people’s calendars, so I’m wondering what I’m missing.

Update Sep 20: having calmed down a bit over the weekend, I looked at the ics file that Google Calendar creates with the free/busy, and compared to the usual ics file. The solution is to find and replace “VREEBUSY” with “VEVENT”. Upload that edited .ics file to the client’s WebDav server, problem solved. OK, it isn’t automatic, but my appointments don’t change that frequently. And when I have a few spare moments I’ll script it.

  7 Responses to “Calendars and Sharing”

  1. I use Tungle, and it has the sync tools to manage multiple different calendars. Installing Outlook isn’t going to help you, it’s just going to have one more stuff to manage.

    I have an Exchange account syncing nicely with / Address Book / iCal, and the Tungle sync puts this into one main calendar.

    Lastly, there is access in Google to only share free / busy – and there is an ICS feed for just that.

    • Hi Boris, the problem with your last suggestion is that the ics that Google generates for the free/busy uses a component of the spec that Outlook doesn’t implement. Tungle may be an option; I’ll need to dig into it a little more deeply. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Tim Bray, Simon Buxton. Simon Buxton said: RT @timbray: "It seems a little silly that I can’t readily share a free/busy schedule between systems…" […]


    Jon has been pondering calendar standards for some time Lauren?

    HTH DaveP

  4. Hi Dave: thanks for the links! There’s lots of information in the comments as well, so hopefully something there will help.

  5. In case there is also the Chandler Project

    it is based on Open Data and it integrates natively with tons of different calendar formats (iCal, Google, Lotus ecc).

    Hope to be useful.

  6. Ahhh – mystery solved. Thank you, Lauren. I believe that in my case I can solve this by setting up a reverse proxy and re-writing the file as it comes in. That presumes that the ‘sync’ is one way – but I think it is.

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