Erik Eckel writes that Mac's iCal Server 2 is more compatible than ever with other platforms, and even though it lacks a few features, cost savings on user licenses still make it an attractive option.
Imagine checking schedules, scheduling meetings, supporting group calendars, and reserving conference rooms in real-time (including from cell phones with no syncing required).
I know what you're thinking, "No problem. Microsoft Exchange does that."
Then, eliminate per user license requirements.
Now we're talking Snow Leopard Server. Macintosh — that's right. Which brings up the old concern of Macs proving incompatible with the rest of the computing world.
Well, those days are gone. It's no longer 1999. The new iCal Server 2 included in Snow Leopard Server leverages standard calendaring protocols to ensure compatibility with standard CalDAV client applications. Contacts and colleagues not using iCal can be invited to meetings over e-mail which, when the appointments are accepted, adds meetings and appointments to their calendar platform whether they're using a Mac or a Windows computer and standards-based calendaring software.
Apple engineers, aggressively committed to open and standards-based protocols (CalDAV) and interchange formats (iCalendar, iMIP, and iTIP), have also included Web-based calendaring functionality within iCal Server 2. The technology works almost regardless of the browser that's employed, whether it be Safari, Firefox or Internet Explorer. Thus, calendaring functionality anchored by iCal Server 2 works with most any OS, which is particularly helpful in larger enterprise organizations where different operating systems are often deployed out of necessity.
The new iCal platform also leverages push technology to ensure contacts are made aware of schedule changes and meeting invitations as soon as they're issued. While Exchange has long utilized that technology, it's no longer a differentiating factor.
Enterprise-ready iCal Server 2
iCal Server 2 will run on everything from a Mac Mini to Xserve systems. The calendaring platform's performance, in fact, is optimized for Xsan 2 environments.
Enterprise organizations often find calendaring services among the most difficult to synchronize and maintain, as the supporting infrastructure for distributed organizations with thousands of users proves necessarily complex. However, iCal Server 2's Xsan 2 tuning enables deploying iCal Server across multiple Xserve servers that can support tens of thousands of concurrent users.
Cost vs. benefit
Snow Leopard's iCal Server 2 isn't a ready-made solution for just every organization. Larger environments will find integration easiest if OS X server infrastructure, obviously, is already in place.
Despite the calendaring platform now boasting push technology and widespread compatibility due to its expanded Web-based support, it's experiencing some growing pains. Judging from public forum threads, the iCal's lack of a year-at-a-glance view and some reports of third-party SSL certificate configuration challenges continue to frustrate some firms. But, considering the cost savings that result from not having to purchase hundreds or thousands of e-mail server client access licenses, such issues may quickly prove insignificant within many companies.
Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president of Eckel Media Corp., a communications company specializing in public relations and technical authoring projects.