Apple iCal: FAIL

Even before there was an Internet that emphasized the value and
powerful reach of inter-machine resource sharing and interoperability,
there was
a basic concept that any given program ought to be able to use data
files generated by any other instance of the same program, run on
similar hardware. All the user had to do was get the data
from one computer to the other.

Apple’s calendaring “solution” breaks this most basic of understandings.

I am an Apple fan — I heartily enjoy using
my computers to get stuff done, not having to continuously work
on the computers themselves. Apple is a leader in
delivering seamless computing environments. There are so many
things that Apple has gotten
right with the hardware and the user environment. But, sometimes
the apparent drive to “own” the “user experience”, gets in the way of
the actual user. One such area is calendaring: it takes
nothing away from iCal to say that I need it to play with others, and
yet the impediments to doing just that render it virtually
unusable. Message to Apple: making the only
way to sync my iCal across machines is NOT going to get me to subscribe
to, it’s more likely going to get me to stop using iCal.

A common calendar situation

I have a situation that I suspect is not all that unusual in the

I have

  • a personal Apple MacOSX box;
  • an Apple MacOSX box for work; and
  • a personal Apple iPhone.

I need

  • to be able to keep track of, and update, my meetings
    wherever I am (calendar) and
  • to share some versions of my calendar with a shared work calendar


Is this an unusual situation? I can’t believe it is. And
yet, I have no solution to doing the above seamlessly, with iCal.
The fact that iCal has no inherent ability to share data with another
machine, or even publish and subscribe to the same calendar on a remote
server, makes it impossible to do the above without the intervention of
a 3rd party service or purchased software.

And even those are not so obvious, if you happen to share a few of the
principles I have:

  • I won’t store quantities of personal data on my work machine, and
    I certainly won’t make my work machine the primary for a personal
    application. The machine belongs to my employer, and they have to
    be able to pull it back at any time. I don’t care to be left high
    and dry.
  • I won’t store any employer data (i.e., work information) on
    my personal machines. (I don’t think I need to explain this)
  • I won’t store quantities of my personal data on some 3rd party
    remote server
  • I won’t store any employer data on some 3rd party remote server
  • I don’t have time to manually enter/update the same data in 2
    different places

So — I’m not reflecting my calendars of or even Google
Calendars. I won’t put all my calendar info on my work notebook
(only) and then have to sync my iPhone there.

Trying to route around damage

I have set up my own webdav server that both machines can access — but
the fact that an iCal cannot both subscribe to a calendar and publish
it somehere means that having my own server doesn’t provide me
with an authoritative server that both Macs can access.

I tried keeping the 2 machines’ calendar files in sync (using rsync),
and that works for the calendar data files. However, apparently
the calendars (particularly, those to which you subscribe) are stored
separately in preferences, so that they are not properly sync’ed, and
you get wierdness. That last point is particularly
irritating: even if Apple doesn’t care to provide the
functionality of sync’ing across Macs, by internalizing the data, they
are making impossible for me to find an alternative solution (rsync)
without getting into Apple-specific software development (digging
through preferences). This is where they turn their backs on that
age-old premise of reasonably open computing: that you can move
data files from
machine to machine, as long as you have reasonably similar instances of
the software to work on them.

I used to get away with using a 3rd device to be the “calendar of
record” — now my iPhone, previously a PalmOS PDA, and prior to that an
Apple Newton (!). That way, I could keep one calendar in sync
with one machine AND have it everywhere wth me, even when away from my
computer. Easy-peasy! But, now I need to have a calendar
that can sync (several times a day) to a shared work calendar, and the
iPhone can’t do that.

Where next?

So, I’m looking at spending $25/machine to achieve something iCal
should just be able to do. Or, I can use another calendar program
(e.g., Sunbird), and lose all ability to integrate calendar items with
other applications. Neither is an appealing prospect.

Really, Apple — I think this is an instance where you need to Lead
(build the best calendaring app for your platform), Follow (make it
easy for other calendaring programs to be integrated applications) or
Get out of the
way (let me route around your damage).

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