Google Calendar Basics

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2438, 2006-09-22, as a feature article, in both their print edition (on pages 18 and 20) and their website.

With more people using the Internet every day, and a growing portion of them having constant and speedy access through broadband Internet services, an increasing amount of computer functionality is moving from the desktop to the Web. Years ago, all creation and editing of documents, spreadsheets, and images, were done using desktop programs. But now, all of those operations, can be done on websites, often at no charge.

It was thus inevitable that calendaring would make the same leap. It is also perhaps inevitable that Google, the current Internet juggernaut, would be the company to create what is possibly the best of the breed — in the same manner that their e-mail offering, Gmail, is arguably the finest of the Web-based e-mail services.

Introduced in April of 2006, Google Calendar boasts an impressive list of features including event scheduling, schedule coordination with other Google Calendar users, integration with Gmail, and event tools, including invitations and reminders.

Join the Google Army

In order to use Google Calendar, you naturally need an account with Google. If you do not already have one, then to get one, go to any Google website and click the text link to create a new Google account. You will be asked to supply an e-mail address, a password, your first and last name, and your time zone and country. After passing the captcha test and agreeing to the terms of service, you will be set.

If you are using Internet Explorer, and you do not have active scripting and ActiveX enabled within your browser (likely for security reasons), then you will need to turn those on in order to use most of the Google sites, including Calendar. Even better, you could instead switch to a safer and more capable Web browser, such as Firefox or Opera, both of which are free and avoid the ActiveX dangers.

Once you have your new account, sign into Google Calendar. If you already have a Gmail account, then you can sign in using your Gmail username, without having to add the additional "@gmail.com". You will be asked to verify your name and time zone, as well as whether or not you want to use Google Calendar as a separate Google account.

Your New Calendar

Like most if not all Google Web pages, the main Calendar page is neatly organized and easily readable. The bulk of the screen is occupied by the week's calendar (by default), presented as a grid, with columns for Sunday through Saturday (unless you have requested not to see weekends), and rows for each half-hour between 7 a.m. to midnight.

Click any half-hour field to add an event starting at that time. Each day column is headlined with the abbreviated day name and date, such as "Sun 7/30". Click on the headline to view the day's details. Click in the gray field underneath the headline to add an event for which there are no specific start and stop times, such as "Office party" or "Post-party recovery period".

There are five different calendar modes, listed as clickable tabs just above the upper right-hand corner of the calendar: "Day", "Week", "Month", "Next 4 Days", and "Agenda". That last mode lists all of the upcoming events, organized into alternating light- and dark-colored rows, each of which includes that day's events listed sequentially. Paging through a lengthy agenda is accomplished using the up and down arrow buttons located just underneath the "Agenda" tab.

Moving from one day's calendar to the next, is quite easy, and can be done in several ways. Just above the upper left-hand corner of the calendar, there are buttons with left and right arrows, which will take you backwards and forwards, respectively, through the days or months, depending upon the current calendar mode. To the right of those two buttons is the "Today" button, which returns you to the current day's calendar.

To the left of the calendar's upper left-hand corner, you will see the month corresponding to the day(s) shown in the calendar, with the display day(s) highlighted in blue. If the month shown is the current one, then the current day is also highlighted, in gray. All of the days are clickable, as is the month headline, which switches your calendar to Month mode.

Scheduled Multitasking

Underneath the month display on the left-hand side, you will see a small panel labeled "Calendars", which allows you to create and manage multiple calendars. By default, it shows your starting calendar, assigned your full Google account name. Click the small "+" to the right of "My Calendars" to create a new calendar. Click the small down arrow button to the right of the current calendar name, to change its background color.

Below these items, you will see a small "+" for searching other people's calendars, whose events can be automatically added to your own calendar. Clicking that "+" shows a panel with four tabs, allowing you to search for external calendars by keywords, search a friend's calendar by e-mail address, display national calendars, and display public calendars that have addresses in iCal format (see http://www.icalshare.com/ for an impressive list of such calendars).

At the bottom of the "Calendars" panel, there is a link, "Manage calendars", which displays a panel with four tabs. Clicking the "Settings" link in the upper right hand corner of the page, takes you to the same destination. The four tabs allow you to change your general settings (such as time zone, date and time formats, and default view), manage your calendars (including sharing yours with other people), set your notifications (via e-mail messages, SMS alerts to your cell phone, and computer pop-ups), or import a calendar (in either iCal or CSV format — the latter allowing importation from Microsoft Outlook).

Plan a Party!

To add an event to your calendar and also notify other people, click on the "Create Event" link in the upper left-hand corner of the Google Calendar page. The panel displayed allows you to set the event name, start and end dates and times, event repetition (as frequently as every five minutes, or as infrequently as once per week), and the event's location and description, if any.

Optionally, you can also set a reminder to yourself, specify whether the event is private or public (or allow the default), and invite other people to the event by providing a list of their e-mail addresses. You can even allow guests to invite other guests or to see the guest list.

Google Calendar is quite easy to use, and offers all of the features most people need in a Web-based calendaring system. Now the only remaining excuse for missing an appointment is that you got stuck in traffic — freeway congestion, or Google Calendar Web traffic.

Copyright © 2006 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.

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