Google SyncI have always been fond of using personal information management tools like Outlook to keep my schedule organized, and it has served me well. Outlook was (and probably still is) the defacto standard for calendars plugins like Nokia's PC Suite amongst others. In other words, if you wanted to sync your phone with your contacts and calendars, you had to use Outlook.

Now the trouble comes when you are starting to use more than one computer, or more than one mobile device. How can you keep them all synced? True, you can use a tool like Plaxo, which has always worked fine for me, but it easily becomes to cluttered to setup multiple calendar relationships on multiple machines. There are also small problems like too slow uploads to the Plaxo server if you change something, and Plaxo does not cater for mobile devices except Windows Mobile (provided you pay for it). Personally I want push, or near push type of updating for my calendar.

Therefore, this week I decided to cut out the middle man, and move all my contacts and calendars to Google. Google has for a while now enabled users to use an Exchange protocol to enable syncing between mobile devices, and has also given guides how to setup syncing on your machine, be Outlook or iCal. Here is how I went about it:

Microsoft Outlook:

Outlook setup is reasonably straightforward. Download Google Sync for Windows here.
Install the app, and let it run its first sync - it can take a few minutes, just keep your mouse over the Google Sync icon on the system tray to see its progress. Easy enough.

Apple Mac/iCal:

Despite what Apple would let you believe, things are not always simpler with Mac. iCal (or Google) does not allow you to sync your default local calendar with Google, unless you use a tool like Plaxo or Spanning Sync (which is not free). First, you need to import your old local calendar into Google, and then setup a subscribed folder in iCal, where you will now move your normal Calendar activities. Here's the steps:
  1. In Apple iCal, select the calendar from the list of calendars in the iCal window.
  2. Select File > Export.
  3. Name the calendar, then save it.
  4. In Google Calendar, ensure that you've created the calendar that you'd like to migrate events to. Then, at the bottom of the calendar list on the left, click the Add down-arrow button and select Import Calendar.
  5. Click Browse and select the appropriate file, then select Open.
  6. From the drop-down menu, select the calendar to which you'd like to import events.
  7. Click Import to complete the import.
Once you have done this you need to setup the "subscribed" calendar in iCal.
  1. Open Apple iCal, go to Preferences and then the Accounts tab.
  2. Click on the + button to add an account.
  3. Under Account Information, enter your Google Account username and password.
  4. Under Server Options, add the following URL:
    https://www.google.com/calendar/dav/YOUREMAIL@DOMAIN.COM/user
    Replace 'youremail@domain.com' with your Google Account username.
  5. Click Add.
  6. Under the Delegation tab, select the calendars you'd like to add to iCal by checking the boxes next to them. You may need to hit refresh to get the latest list of calendars.
  7. Add your email address to your Address Book card by selecting Add Email. You'll be prompted to add your email address only if your address is not already in your Address Book.
Once you do this you will see your Google Calendar appear on the left of iCal. This is where you do your calendaring from now on. Changes made will be reflected on all connected calendars within 5 minutes, or any time you have a internet connection available.. Done and dusted.

Mobile:

Now the other major reason to move your calendar to the Google "cloud" is to enable syncing on your mobile devices like iPhone, Symbian ,Android and Windows Mobile. Because there are many devices out there, I am just going to refer you to Google's sync setup page for phones. I followed the iPhone instructions, but made a point not to sync my contacts yet, and it works a treat. Opening up Calendar on my iPhone quickly downloads the latest changes within a few seconds. (You might want to switch off push, and also change the fetch settings to "manual" for the Google calendar account. This will save battery power).

All of these steps leave you with a truly portable calendar which is updated regardless of which machine you work on, provided you have a internet connection. I have to applaud Google for making these services available to end users for free.

In fact, if you have moved most of your calendars, email and contacts to Google, you are missing out on a lot if you do not at least try some of the Sync functionality.

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I am a R&D Analyst in Stellenbosch South Africa who has a immense passion for all things tech related. I embrace technology, open source and web standards, and I participate and contribute to the social web.