Have you ever needed to share your Outlook appointments with coworkers? It’s easy if you’re using group scheduling via Microsoft Exchange Server, but what do you do if you’re not? You could print out the appointments and pass out hard copies to your coworkers at the next team meeting. However, there’s an easier way. In this Daily Feature, I’ll show you how to take advantage of Outlook’s support of the vCalendar format to use e-mail to share your Outlook appointments with coworkers and others.

The vCalendar technology is a platform-independent tool for automating the exchange of scheduling information. This means that any two PIM/scheduling applications that support the vCalendar format can easily share data in an automated and consistent manner.

The development of vCalendar
The Versit Consortium is an organization of leading producers of Personal Information Manager applications (PIMs), including Apple, AT&T, IBM, and Siemens. In 1996, the consortium released the results of its Personal Data Interchange (PDI) development efforts—vCalendar and vCard. In December of that year, they turned over continued support and development of vCard and vCalendar to the Internet Mail Consortium.

Things change

Keep in mind that, in 1996, Windows 95 was the best thing since sliced bread, and the Internet as we know it today was still pretty much in its infancy.

The idea behind the PDI project was that people exchange personal information like telephone numbers, addresses, and appointment schedules nearly every time they get together, whether for business or pleasure. Versit took on the task of developing a set of PDI technologies based on open specifications and interoperability agreements to make it easy for people to share this personal information electronically.

Creating a vCalendar appointment
It’s easy to create a vCalendar appointment in Outlook 98, 2000, and 2002. You begin by creating an appointment in Outlook as you normally would. Once you’ve created and saved your appointment, you need to open it. Then, in the Appointment window, pull down the File menu and select the Save As command. When you see the Save As dialog box, choose an appropriate folder to contain the file, select the vCalendar Format (*.vcs) in the Save As Type drop-down menu shown in Figure A, and click the Save button.

At this point you have two options for sharing your vCalendar appointment with others. You can e-mail it to them, or you can save the .vcs file to a floppy disk and give them the disk.

Figure A
To create a vCalendar appointment, you need to select the vCalendar Format option from the Save As Type drop-down menu.

Distributing vCalendar appointments via the Internet or intranet

If you ever need to distribute a scheduled event to a wide variety of people and don’t want to use e-mail as the distribution mechanism, you can easily distribute a vCalendar appointment via the Internet or an intranet. All you need to do is upload the .vcs file to your Web site and add a link to the file to a page on your site. Whenever anyone clicks on that link, Internet Explorer will automatically download the .vcs file, and the user’s PIM program will open it. The user can easily add the vCalendar appointment to their schedule.

E-mailing the vCalendar appointment
Sending a vCalendar appointment to your coworkers is pretty straightforward. All you need to do is create an e-mail message and attach the vCalendar appointment to the message, as shown in Figure B. Simply pull down the Insert menu, select the File command, and then locate the .vcs file. Now, send it off.

Figure B
To send a vCalendar appointment to your coworkers, you just attach it to your e-mail.

Processing a vCalendar appointment via e-mail
Once you’ve received a vCalendar appointment in your Outlook Inbox, you can add it to your Calendar. Just open the e-mail message, as shown in Figure C, and drag the vCalendar appointment attachment icon to the Calendar folder shortcut on the Outlook toolbar. As soon as you do, the appointment will open. Or you can just double-click the vCalendar appointment attachment icon in the body of the e-mail message. In either case, once the appointment is open, you’ll need to click the Save And Close button to add the appointment to your Calendar.

Figure C
There are two ways that you can add a vCalendar appointment sent to you via e-mail to your Outlook Calendar.

Processing a vCalendar appointment via a file
If someone gives you a floppy disk containing a .vcs file, you can add it to your Outlook calendar by using Outlook’s Import And Export Wizard. To do so, pull down Outlook’s File menu and select the Import And Export command. When you see the Import And Export Wizard’s first screen, select the Import An iCalendar Or vCalendar File (.vcs) action, as shown in Figure D, and click Next.

Figure D
When you receive a vCalendar appointment via a file, use Outlook’s Import And Export Wizard to add it to your Calendar.

When you see the Browse dialog box, select vCalendar Format (*.vcs) in the Files Of Type drop-down menu. Now locate and double-click the .vcs file. As soon as you do, the file is added to your Outlook Calendar.

As I mentioned earlier, almost all of the popular PIMs support the vCalendar format. This means that you can use vCalendar to share calendaring information between a variety of applications and even across platforms, such as PIMs running on Macintosh, Linux, and many PDAs. You can even use vCalendar to share scheduling with the Nokia Communicator 9000 series cell phones. The list below provides a directory of some of the PIM applications and devices that support the vCalendar format:

  • ·        GoldMine Versions 4 and 5
  • ·        Lotus Organizer
  • ·        Microsoft Outlook 98, 2000, 2002
  • ·        Netscape Communicator
  • ·        Novell Groupwise 5.5
  • ·        Nokia Communicator 9000 series
  • ·        Palm III and IV PDAs
  • ·        Sidekick 98

An alternative to vCalendar: iCalendar
In addition to vCalendar, Outlook supports a similar technology called iCalendar. This new technology standard reflects the importance of the Internet as a business tool and the need for some sort of interoperable calendaring and scheduling service.

With the right server software, such as Internet Information Server, the iCalendar technology lets you plan and schedule meetings with people across the Internet, no matter what PIM product they’re using. While it’s still in its infancy, the iCalendar technology is gaining support from major PIM manufacturers. You can learn more about the iCalendar technology by investigating the Internet Calendaring and Scheduling Core Object Specification – RFC 2445 on the Internet Mail Consortium Web site.