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Sharing Calendars Across Platforms

Keep your team on schedule, even if they're not on the same operating system By Dee-Ann LeBlanc
Our increasingly heterogeneous computing world causes an interesting set of business problems. One of these complications is that of sharing computerized calendars, which can simplify project management by allowing anyone in an authorized group to view when a team member is free or busy, to create meetings that people can join through an e-mail or Web interface, and more. It's one thing if all of your servers and desktops use the same operating system, but the situation gets more troublesome when team members choose their own environment. One set of users might choose to run their servers under Linux. Some might have a mix of desktop operating systems to contend with, including Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux.

This article discusses the various options, depending on which set of platforms and clients you need to support.

The Importance of Standards
Before getting into the technical options, it's important to address the issue of proprietary protocols versus standards. This discussion is more important than many outside of the computing field realize. A proprietary protocol is a communications method between programs that a company keeps secret, and is typically used as a method to lock people into using their products--though of course this particular goal is not outlined in the product literature. As an example, versions of Microsoft Outlook before Outlook 2007 support only a proprietary Microsoft method of sharing calendar contents. Therefore, if you wanted to be able to have shared calendars, you either had to choose "the Microsoft way" and use Outlook for everyone, or you had to completely avoid Outlook and choose an alternative.

Selecting a product that utilizes standards means that you can be flexible in both which server and which client you select. Programs that add functionality or integration become much easier to find and add. For example, by default, Evolution calendar entries are displayed in the GNOME calendar accessible at the top of a GNOME desktop, enabling you to see what you have scheduled without having to actually change from your Mail view in Evolution to the Calendar view.

So, in order to be useful to those who want to be standards-compliant, and those who are using software that isn't capable of such things, this article discusses how to share calendars cross-platform in both cases.

The two major standards for calendar sharing on the Web are WebDAV and iCalendar. WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) is a protocol for creating and managing content, and has a calendar-sharing extension called CalDAV. CalDAV utilizes the iCalendar format to share calendar information over the Web through WebDAV. iCalendar--often called iCal--was originally used through e-mail, with users sending calendar items such as meeting information through this method. A related protocol, hCalendar, is used to display iCalendar data in XHTML through the Web.

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