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Google Quietly Launches CalDav Support for Calendar
Summary: Google Calendar synchronization via CalDav is now online. Google's official CalDav setup and usage instructions for iCal (Leopard only) will help you get started and will answer common questions.
Finding the FeatureToday I made a Google search for an old article hinting at Google Calendar's upcoming support for CalDav. Surprisingly, the first search result was a Google's own support page for using CalDav with iCal 3.0. Knowing that 2-way iCal syncing is a popular feature request (ask the 20,000 paid Spanning Sync subscribers...) I was surprised to have not heard about the feature being added via Digg, Delicious or TechCrunch et. al. After further sleuthing, I could find no mention of CalDav working on any site, official or unofficial. With the page added to Google's search index on July 25th, it was now clear that I stumbled upon the anticipated feature being added before any official release. What is less clear at this point is what Google's timetable for an official launch is. The main sync support page has yet to be updated to link to CalDav as an additional option. The page may be edited shortly or it could be that the CalDav support pages were added and/or indexed prematurely. Either way, I can report that the service is operational and is presently working for me. Read on for first impressions...
First ImpressionsAfter following the "Get Started" instructions I had CalDav up and running in iCal within 2 minutes. The very first thing that I tried was creating and editing events to see the 2 way sync in action. I can report that it works beautifully: after editing an appointment in iCal, syncing is triggered and within seconds a refreshing Google Calendar reflects the change. Testing both sides shows no lag at all. This is exactly what I had been waited for. However, further usage started to uncover a number of small issues, all of which contributed to a poor overall user experience. The largest issue that I had is that I needed to create a new CalDav server account for every calendar in Google Calendar. Not only did this make further setup cumbersome, it degraded the iCal UI as a 1-1 relationship between each folder (server) and calendar is created. Normal re-ordering and organization of calendars does not work with this setup so be careful with the order you enter your calendars. This multiple server setup also removed the ability to move events between different calendars within iCal. Another quirk is that performing a prohibited action such as adding an event to a read-only calendar results in an error message that is unclear for non-technical users, asking them if they want to "Go Offline" or "Revert to Server" (I'd suggest "Revert to Server"). This could be made user friendly, with the system realizing when a calendar was simply read-only rather than un-available. Trying to create a to-do item triggers exactly the same error, which is obviously because tasks are not part in Google Calendar. There have been hints of Google adding tasks to Calendar for over 2 years now. In October 2007 the development team was going to "have more to talk about soon"... I can't think of a better time to start talking about this than now. iCal makes the the absence of tasks just that much more painful. When adding attendees to events names no longer auto-complete from Address Book. Strangely, Address Book group autocompletion is still available. Once attendees are added, a link to the auto-scheduling feature appears. This is a problem as iCal does not know any of the attendees' schedules. I can see users being confused by this, thinking that colleagues' schedules are essentially wide open. Along the same line, all locations are now pre-fixed with an warning exclamation mark symbol. I suspect that this is due to CalDav's support for resource and location scheduling. Since there is no support for this feature built into Google Calendar every location is pre-fixed with an exclamation mark for being unknown to the system. One bright spot in my test drive is support for color synchronization. All colors within Google Calendar are carried over, which is a pleasant surprise. You will notice that the shades are more muted than iCal's defaults, which I personally prefer. Color changes in iCal are accepted but do not carry back to Google Calendar. My guess is that this is due to Google's limited amount of available colors.
ConclusionsApplication native iCal and Google Calendar synchronization is here and works wonderfully - all using open standards. However, a multitude of quirks put a damper on what otherwise would be an excellent experience. Being a technical user, I will be using the service and will hope for further refinements down the road. Until refinements come I do not see myself recommending a CalDav setup to non-technical users. What is needed here from both Apple and Google is further collaboration. Between CalDav support in Calendar, IMAP and Address Book synchronization in Gmail and XMPP support in iChat Google has a suite of free web applications that play well with OS X. If Apple was to make configuring all of these systems as simple as entering your Google account information in a single location I suspect that we'd see a lot more uptake outside of technical circles. However, with Apple focusing its energy on MobileMe I'm not expecting them to under-cut there own initiatives anytime soon.
Further Questions to Be AnsweredI suspect that over the coming days more information about CalDav support will become available. There could easily be things that I'm missing here that will improve the situation. I have a number of questions that I'd like answered myself:
- What is the experience like with iPhone or iPod Touch calendar synchronization? Do changes need to wait until desktop synchronization to be picked up or is there native CalDav support?
- CalDav is an open standard. What is the experience like in other clients?
- I'm curious to see if/how the Spanning Sync team responds. I've heard great things about their applications but between this and contact syncing Google is beginning to solve the synchronization problem themselves.
- Does Google Apps have any of its own specific features? Using CalDav in this group environment seems like a no-brainer for features such as meeting scheduling. Hopefully Google is on this.
- Exactly when is this actually going to be officially announced?