We all use calendars, in one form or another. Whether we’re tracking a busy work schedule, school classes, our children’s activities, or social events, calendars help us keep up with our commitments. Most users tend to stick with what is known. That means Outlook, Google Calendar, or iCal. But what would you say if I told you that countless other calendar tools are available — some of which are even easier to use than the standard fare? Most would say, “Show me what you got!” That’s what I intend to do.

Understand that all calendars are not created equal. Some are better for working with other users, whereas some work best as a stand-alone tool. But no matter your need, there are some obscure calendar apps that are worth checking out.

Note: This article is also available as an image gallery and a video hosted by TechRepublic columnist Tom Merritt.

1: Brown Bear Software Free Calendar

Brown Bear Software Free Calendar (Figure A) is an ad-based web calendar that is simple to use. Because it’s web based, you can access your calendar from anywhere. There is, however, one drawback. The free calendar is based on the Calcium web-based Calendar, but it has no associated user credentials. So anyone who knows the URL of your calendar can access it (and add to it). You can get around this by purchasing a hosted plan. The plans start at $20.00/month USD for four calendars and go up from there.

Figure A

If you already have a web server up and running, you can download and install Calcium and run it locally. Calcium features include portability, dynamic calendar merging, calendar views and formatting, built-in email, plenty of customizations, templates, and RSS feeds.

2: Zoho Calendar

Zoho Calendar (Figure B) is a part of the powerful Zoho groupware suite of tools. If you are unaware of Zoho, consider it Google Apps on steroids. Zoho Calendar offers a comprehensive feature list that includes group calendars, event reminders, RSS subscribe, send/receive invitations, share and embed, mobile access, and an Outlook plug-in.

Figure B

Zoho Calendar also has an interface that anyone can quickly master. Creating an appointment is simple. And after you add an appointment, you can easily drag it to different times and dates (within five-minute increments). Because Zoho Calendar is tightly integrated with the Zoho groupware suite, it seamlessly interacts with the various tools.

3: Lightning

Lightning (Figure C) is the calendar add-on for the Thunderbird email client. You can quickly install it from the Thunderbird Extension Manager, and it integrates perfectly with the email client. Most users will appreciate Lightning’s ability to work with nearly any type of calendar. You can connect it with your Google Calendar and, with a bit of work, your Exchange calendar. By default, Lightning works with ICS, CalDAV, and WCAP network calendar formats and (where available) offers offline support. If you’re concerned that Lightning will slow down your email client, fear not. Thunderbird will hardly hiccup with Lightning installed.

Figure C

4: Cal Google Calendar & Exchange

Cal Google Calendar & Exchange (Figure D) is one of my favorite Android calendar apps. Not only is it powerful and flexible (with one of the best calendar widgets you’ll find), this app does what it does with style. Cal offers features like real-time sync, voice entry and predictive text, visual timeline, landscape and month view, task tracker, and reminders. As the name implies, Cal easily syncs with your Google and your Exchange calendars (in real time). One of the more unusual features of Cal is its social predictability. Cal attempts to predict who you need to meet and suggests nearby meeting locations.

Figure D

5: OrgCalendar Web

OrgCalendar Web (Figure E) comes from Org Business, which offers various cost-effective tools for your company. It has a number of types of calendar software (such as Salon, Restaurant, Repair Shop, Photo Lab, Medical, School, Rental, and Hotel), but OrgCalendar is a fully functional generic scheduling web application.

Figure E

This hosted service runs $14.95/month or $145/year. The software will run in nearly any web browser and can communicate with different scheduling applications across the web, including Apple iCal, Google Calendar, Microsoft Exchange, Outlook 2007, and Novell GroupWise. Calendar management is broken into two levels for security: Admin and Public. (Only administrators can manage all calendars.) OrgCalendar makes it easy to manage your resources, events, and meetings.

Exploring your options

There are many ways to manage your busy schedule. Locking yourself down to one tool just because that’s what everyone else uses means you could be missing out on features or interfaces perfect for your needs. Give one of these calendaring tools a try and see if you don’t find yourself waving goodbye to the old standard.