During the past few years, we have seen the emergence of some major trends in information technology, including widespread social media and marketing, Web 2.0, and a huge increase in the use of mobile devices for accessing the Web. Yet one trend has received less attention from the public and evoked less fanfare by the industry media and pundits: the transition of data storage and processing from the desktop to the Web. When once people used Microsoft Outlook for downloading and managing email messages on their local computers, now they simply login to their Gmail or Yahoo Mail accounts. Likewise, Web-based office productivity tools, such as Google Docs, are threatening to supplant their desktop predecessors, a.k.a. Microsoft Office.
There are a number of advantages to keeping one's personal and business data and programs "in the cloud". They can be accessed from anywhere in the world, as long as one has access to a computer connected to the Web. In these cases, for the majority of common tasks, one no longer needs to tote around a laptop, but instead can take advantage of the resources offered by colleagues, libraries, Internet cafés, and satellite offices. None of the data is vulnerable to hard drive failure, because even though the Web servers themselves store your data on hard drives, the failure rates are much lower, and everything is backed up anyway. Speaking of which, you no longer need to worry about making backups of your own, provided that you have chosen legitimate Web services, such as those offered by the major Internet firms.
These advantages are prompting more people than ever to utilize the Web for even the most mundane computing tasks. One example of this is time management, which for many years was typically handled by dedicated applications running on the desktop, or applets, which are built into the popular operating systems. Nowadays, the typical user's hodgepodge of scheduling and time tracking utilities is being replaced by online calendars and to-do lists. In fact, more specialization has been made possible, and is being actively pursued by Web application developers. Witness the numerous apps that have been created specifically for time and task management for software development projects.
View the Future
Given that Google is arguably the leader in Web applications, it should come as no surprise that the company offers their own time management tool, known as Google Calendar. It was introduced in April 2006, in beta form, and was not blessed as ready for prime time until more than three years later (true to Google form).
As with most Google software, the user interface for Calendar is clean and attractive.
The calendar view occupies most of the screen, and is formatted according to which view is currently chosen — which is done using the tabs just above the calendar, to the right of the printer icon and "Print" link. The default view is for the current week, and shows the seven days, starting with Sunday (unless set to a different day).
You can switch to a day view, which is able to display lengthier event descriptions in full.
The month view allows less space for each day, and displays a link to show any overflow, e.g., "+2 more".
The "4 Days" view would be ideal for a printed schedule of a weekend of travel, away from Web access.
Lastly, the agenda view collapses all of the days, to show content only, and minimal empty space.
Control Your Destiny
In any of the views discussed above, you can create a new event simply by clicking on any empty event slot; you can modify an existing event by clicking on it; you can move an event by clicking and dragging it; and you can change the start and end times by clicking and dragging the top and bottom borders. Aside from those actions, most of your calendar management is accomplished by using the control panel located on the left side of the screen.
It contains links for creating a new event in detail, creating one quickly, and toggling the tasks sidebar. Let's consider that first one.
Every event can have a name, start and end dates and times (or be an all-day event), a location, a calendar assignment, and a description. You can optionally set a reminder to yourself, specify whether the event is private or public (or allow the default), invite other people to the event (by providing a list of their email addresses), and allow guests to invite other guests or to see the guest list.
The "Quick Add" feature makes it possible to create an event by typing in the minimum information needed (e.g., "Breakfast at Tiffany's 7am April 1"). The "Tasks" link will display or hide the tasks panel, located to the right of the large calendar. Tasks can be checkmarked to indicate completion.
Below those three links in the control panel is a simple display of the selected month, with double-headed arrows for quickly switching to past and future months. Below that is a list of calendars. Initially there is only one, colored green, and labeled with your personal name. When you view the Tasks section the first time, a tasks calendar, colored red, is created. You can use the "Settings" and "Create" links to modify existing calendars and make new ones. In the bottom section, titled "Other Calendars", you can import calendars from other people, or stick with only the default, your nation's holidays. In the illustrative screenshots above, we see how created events are colored green, holidays are blue, and tasks are red.
Get Some Google Time
To use this time management application, you need an account with Google. You will already have one if, for instance, you have a Gmail account. Otherwise, go to the Google Calendar home page and sign up, which is a straightforward process. You need to provide a valid email address, a chosen password, and your name, location, and time zone. Enter the displayed CAPTCHA, read the terms of service (which everyone does, of course...), and click the big button to create your account. By the way, if you are not delighted with your current email provider, you may as well try Gmail, because then you automatically have a Google Calendar, and you can also try out an email service that will probably win you over. If you have a business, then consider signing up for an account with Google Apps, using your organization's domain name. For instance, with the domain name "example.com", you could always go straight to your calendar at the address http://www.google.com/calendar/hosted/example.com.
Once you have logged in to your Calendar account, you may want to check the settings for your account, to make sure that they are optimal for your circumstances. Click on the "Settings" link in the upper right-hand corner of the screen. As of this writing, there are four tabs in the Settings section: General, Calendars, Mobile Setup, and Labs. In the General subsection, you can specify such settings as your current time zone, preferred date format, whether to display the local weather, and even what day starts the week (party enthusiasts may prefer to change that to Friday). The Calendars subsection allows you to create new calendars, update or delete existing ones, share them with other people, unsubscribe from unwanted calendars, and browse a list of "interesting" calendars (i.e., international calendars). In this era of ubiquitous cell phones, the Mobile Setup functionality could be quite useful, because you can request to receive Calendar alerts and updates on your mobile phone. The Labs subsection lists a number of Calendar add-ins developed by outside programmers, and contributed to the system.
Regardless of how much or how little you customize your Google Calendar, more than likely you will find that it is a highly capable time management application, which integrates nicely with any other Google products that you are using.