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Monday, December 6, 2010

Managing the family calendar and contacts

Fifteen years ago, we kept a large-format calendar on the pantry door in the kitchen. It was full of written info: birthdays for the two extended families, school and sporting events for the kids, church and community and entertainment events for us, dentist and doctor appointments, upcoming travel, and other things to keep track of.

At some point -- I don't remember when -- the physical calendar was replaced by a joint calendar in Microsoft Outlook that we could update often and print on demand. We added about a hundred contacts to Outlook, too. That was easy when there was only one computer in the household for everyone. Gail's Palm was sync'd from this common Outlook database, and I purchased software to sync my Palm's calendar and contacts with both the family info and my Nortel info.

Gradually the one household computer was replaced by four laptops and three servers. Managing the joint calendar and contact database across multiple computers, not to mention four cellphones, has been a struggle ever since! One would think that millions of households in the U.S. alone share this problem and that Microsoft or someone else would address it. Well, there are many attempts but they all have shortcomings.

For the last 18 months, I had used a convenient product from Microsoft called Office Live Workspace that allowed a family Outlook calendar/contact database to be shared by family members. Software from Nokia downloaded calendar and contact entries into our cellphones. Alas, Microsoft is canceling Office Live Workspace and replacing it with SkyDrive -- which has no support for Outlook.

I've come up with a new solution, but it involves separating the family calendar from the family contact database. For calendars, I've put all the family appointments into my Google Calendar which I then shared with Gail. I also installed Google's software to sync Outlook calendars with Google Calendar on both her laptop and mine. This appears to be working well. It also has the advantage that I can access the family calendar anywhere in the world from a web browser.

Unfortunately Google does not offer a similar capability for contacts. Therefore I signed up for the services of Soocial, a start-up in the Netherlands. Soocial provides a master repository for contacts that can be shared and sync'd across many client systems, including Outlook. So far, so good. Gail and I now have a common contacts database that can be updated from either laptop. It will also feed our cellphones, and it too can be accessed from a web browser.