Windows 7 : Managing Your Schedule - Understanding Calendaring, Exploring Windows Live Calendar

9/24/2012 7:18:04 PM

1. Understanding Calendaring

If you've ever used the Calendar component in Microsoft Outlook, shown in Figure 1, then you're familiar with the notion of PC-based calendaring and scheduling. Microsoft Outlook is an extremely powerful tool, enabling you to create and manage appointments, meetings, and other events, as well as tasks and other time-based schedules. For all its strengths, however, Microsoft Outlook isn't perfect. First, you must pay a hefty sum for Microsoft Outlook unless you get a version along with other Microsoft Office applications when you purchase a new PC. Second, Outlook is designed to work primarily with Microsoft Exchange–based servers. Although it's possible to use Outlook as an individual, it's not ideal, and even the latest Outlook versions offer only very simple methods for sharing calendaring information with other people.

Meanwhile, standards-based Web calendars have been gaining in popularity for the past few years, and these solutions offer features that are much more applicable to individuals than what Outlook offers. Best of all, most of these Web-based calendars are free. For example, Apple Computer supplies users of its Mac OS X operating system with a calendar application called iCal that integrates very nicely with Web standards for calendaring, making it possible for iCal users to share calendars with family and friends from around the world. The Mozilla Corporation, which makes the popular Firefox Web browser, is developing its own calendar application called Sunbird, offering similar functionality to Windows and Linux users. Alternatively, if you'd prefer to work directly on the Web, you can use a calendaring solution such as Google Calendar, shown in Figure 2.

Standards-based calendar applications offer a number of useful features. First, you can create discrete calendars in categories such as Personal, Work, Gym, or any categories you choose and overlay them as needed on the same Calendar view to see how your entire schedule plays out. You can share calendars with others, via a publish and subscribe mechanism that enables you to superimpose your own calendars visually with remote calendars, overlaying these on one another and your own calendars. Using this functionality you could, for example, find a night when both you and your spouse were free to have dinner at a restaurant together, or compare your son's soccer schedule with your own weekend plans to make sure you can get to the game.

Figure 1. Yes, it's full-featured and powerful, but Microsoft Outlook is also expensive.

Figure 2. Google Calendar runs via any Web browser but requires you to be online.

More recently, Web-based calendaring solutions have begun interacting and syncing with mobile devices, such as smart phones. So it's easy to freely sync between, say, Google Calendar and Apple's iPhone, two products that are made by different companies with different agendas. The calendaring standards that make this possible have even been adopted by Microsoft, which has added this functionality to its Exchange- and Outlook-based applications, servers, and services, and, more recently, to consumer-oriented offerings as well.

The ramifications of this support are wide-reaching. Because these standards-based calendars are becoming so popular, many organizations and individuals publish their own schedules on the Web so that other individuals can subscribe to them. If you're a fan of the Boston Red Sox or any other sports team, you can subscribe to their schedule and always be alerted when a game is coming up. There are calendars out there for all kinds of events, including regional holidays, concerts, and the like; and these calendars can be superimposed on your own calendars within these calendaring applications.

There's more, of course. Standards-based calendars also typically support lists of tasks, which can be assigned days and times for completion and checked off as they are completed. You can print calendars in attractive styles, and use them as paper-based personal information managers during your work week or on trips. All of this is possible without having to deal with an expensive, centralized server. The Internet's enterprising denizens have gotten their hands on calendaring and rescued it from the proprietary shackles of Microsoft Exchange.

2. Exploring Windows Live Calendar

Microsoft isn't blind to this change in how people are interacting online via standards-based calendars. That's why it has added a standards-based calendaring service, Windows Live Calendar, to its ever-expanding set of online services. Windows Live Calendar, shown in Figure 3, replaces the company's previous stabs at online calendars, including the horrid calendar component of Hotmail and something called MSN Calendar.

Figure 3. Windows Live Calendar

You could pretty much perform all of your schedule-related needs directly from this Web interface if you wanted to, as Windows Live Calendar includes all of the functionality one might expect from an online calendar.

  • Windows Live Calendar is tied to a Windows Live ID. As you should expect by now, the calendars and to-do lists you create with Windows Live Calendar need to be associated with a Windows Live ID. This means that you cannot use Windows Live Calendar without first creating such an ID, and that any calendars and to-do lists you create after that will integrate nicely with other Windows Live services and, if you like, be easily shareable with others, especially those who are part of your Windows Live network.

  • Windows Live Calendar is part of your online persona. As part of the Windows Live ID integration, Windows Live Calendar becomes one of many Windows Live services you can access through your online persona. But because it's part of your overall Windows Live experience, it can also be themed and customized along the same lines possible with most other Windows Live services. So if you apply a cool theme to your Windows Live Profile, it will show up in Calendar, as shown in Figure 4. And if you apply a theme to Windows Live Calendar, it will be applied to the other Windows Live services you visit on the Web.

  • Windows Live Calendar supports one or more Web-based calendars. By default, Windows Live Calendar will provide at least one calendar, My Calendar, but you can add as many other calendars as you'd like. If you've been using other Windows Live services, like Windows Live People, either via the Web or through an application like Windows Live Messenger, you may also see a calendar called Birthday Calendar that provides access to your contacts' birthdays.

    You can assign different colors to each calendar, making for a nice, multi-color display.

    Figure 4. Windows Live Calendar can be customized with fun themes.
  • Windows Live Calendar provides different views. Like desktop-based calendars, you can view your schedule via Day, Week, and Month views. But Windows Live Calendar also provides a unique and attractive Agenda view that presents your schedule as a list, as shown in Figure 5.

    Figure 5. Windows Live Calendar's Agenda view
  • Windows Live Calendar provides tasks functionality too. Like Outlook and other desktop calendaring solutions, Windows Live Calendar provides a separate tasks management solution called the To-do list (see Figure 6). As with the Agenda view, the To-do list is list-based, but it has provisions for such things as priorities and completion progress.


    You can rename any calendar, including the default My Calendar. To do so, visit Options => More Options in the Web interface.

    Figure 6. Windows Live Calendar's To-do list
  • Windows Live Calendar can import and subscribe to other calendars. Windows Live Calendar allows you to import calendars that have been saved in ICS format. This is handy if you need to import a calendar you've archived from a previous calendaring solution. But if you want to subscribe to an ongoing calendar—one that can change in the future—Windows Live Calendar supports that, too. As with other standards-based calendars, Windows Live Calendar works with iCal-type calendar subscriptions.

  • Windows Live Calendar can share and publish to other calendars. Like other standards-based calendars, Windows Live Calendar can publish your calendars so that they can be consumed, or subscribed to, elsewhere. In addition, Windows Live Calendar supports its own proprietary sharing technology, meaning that you can also share your calendars in other ways. As you can see in Figure 7, you can share with others in your Windows Live network, with others in your network via a read-only view, or by making your calendar public (and thus available for view by anyone).

  • Windows Live Calendar offers functionality that the Calendar view in Windows Live Mail does not. Because Windows Live Calendar is a more complete calendaring solution than the Calendar view in Windows Live Mail, you will need to occasionally visit the Web interface, even if you typically prefer to use Windows Live Mail for your calendaring needs. We'll describe these instances in just a bit. But first, let's take a look at Microsoft's new calendaring application for Windows 7.

Figure 7. Windows Live Calendar provides different ways to share calendars.
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