TMO Interviews John Chaffee: BusyCal Designed to Replace iCal

| WWDC

At WWDC, TMO interviewed John Chaffee, the president of BusyMac.com, well known for its BusySync software. Mr. Chaffee told us about his company's new product, BusyCal, a super capable Mac calendar that, he hopes, will be a replacement for Apple's iCal.

We met on the second level of Moscone West during WWDC, and Mr. Chaffee (pronounced Chay'-fee) gave us a sneak preview of BusyCal before we started recording the interview.

John Chaffee

John Chaffee, President, BusyMac

TMO: Is this a new product?

Chaffee: Yeah, it's kind of the successor to BusySync, although BusySync will continue to be available. That's the synching engine we sell today as a preference pane that plugs into iCal. So it lets you share calendars between iCal users on the LAN. And to sync with Google calendar.

So with BusyCal, what we're doing is taking that BusySync engine and combining it with our own calendar application -- that replaces iCal.

BusyCal

BusyCal (beta) Screen Shot

TMO: Excellent. What is the target for the release date?

Chaffee: The public beta will be available in July. And we don't expect the public beta to last long. So... sometime after July.

TMO: Can you tell us how many private beta testers you have now?

Chaffee: Not a lot. But what I can tell tell you is that we have tens of thousands of BusySync users out there now who are beta testers and don't even know it! [Laughter around the table.]By that I mean we are using the same database and sync engine in BusyCal that already exists in BusySync. So, it's been in production use for almost two years.

Also, we're not going to release the public beta until we feel that it's very stable, ready for thousands of people to use. So, for all intents and purposes, anyone who wants, can start using the public beta in July.

TMO: Have your determined the price yet?

Chaffee: Yes, we've announced that. It's going to be US$40.00 per computer. Not per person. That's the say way BusySync is licensed.

TMO: What about upgrades?

Chaffee: BusySync sells for $25. So the difference is $15. But we'll be offering upgrades for $10. That's also an incentive for people to buy BusySync today and save on the upgrade price.

TMO: I assume BusyCal is written with Cocoa and Xcode?

Chaffee: Yes. One hundred percent.

TMO: Now it occurs to me that we're getting into that Snow Leopard time of year. Is BusyCal Snow Leopard ready?

Chaffee: It is compatible with Snow Leopard.

TMO: Your team has been developing calendar software for the Mac for a long time. Can you give us some background on that history?

Chaffee: Sure. So, Dave Riggle and I were the original developers of Now Up-to-Date in 1991. He was the coder and I was the Product Manager for Now Software. And we both worked on that through the mid 1990s or so. I personally haven't worked on it for, oh, 15 years. Maybe for Dave it's been ten or twelve. But that was our first effort. Now, it's owned by a another company.

Obviously, we have a passion for developing calendar apps and calendar sharing. We kind of pioneered the concept in the early 1990s. Then Apple came along, around 2000, with iCal.

So we're basically returning to our roots with BusyCal. We've been using iCal, and we've been frustrated with it. So we wanted to bring back those features that we loved so much in Now Up-to-Date.

TMO: Has your involvement with these technologies given you any insights into what Apple was thinking with iCal? Because when Apple's version came out, everyone was saying, 'Wow, this is Apple's version. It's going to be wonderful.' And then we realized later it wasn't. And then Apple realized it wasn't because when I was there, the company wouldn't even use it for its own internal group calendaring...

Chaffee: I think iCal was pretty cool when it was introduced. People liked the concept. But it's really languished. It hasn't been updated much since it was introduced.

There has been some recent innovative work from Apple, but it's been very enterprise focused. You know.... the CalDAV stuff. As well as, now, [Microsoft] Exchange support. That's very important for Apple, but it's clear that they've now targeted the enterprise -- which is not the market we're targeting at all. So... we're happy about that. Apple's welcome to have the enterprise market. We want to provide a solution for small workgroups and families... those who get nervous when they hear the word server. They just want to turn it on and have it work.

TMO: When you show this to Apple people in Developer Relations, do they say, 'Cool, run with it!" Or do they get real quiet when they see it?

Chaffee: I think it depends on the person. I know that a lot of Apple people are using it. We actually offer free copies to Apple employees. And they take good advantage of that. But, I imagine if you talked to someone on the iCal team, they wouldn't feel as happy about BusyCal.

It's funny... we thought... should we enter BusyCal into the Apple Design Awards? [An event held every year at WWDC.] Then we thought... if Apple endorsed BuyCal, then they'd basically be saying that iCal is crap. So we thought, why bother.

TMO: You never know. There could all of a sudden be a burst of energy and creativity by Apple with iCal.

Chaffee: Right. That's one of the reasons we've been hesitant to show BusyCal to anybody. Particularly the info panel. Because we didn't want to give Apple any ideas until we felt that Snow Leopard's iCal was put to bed. And so we're comfortable showing BusyCal now as it's probably too late for Apple to copy it in Snow Leopard. We know that people are very frustrated with Apple's iCal, especially the data entry, and we wanted to improve on that.

TMO: Excellent. I am sure our readers will be looking forward to BusyCal as soon as the beta is posted.

Chaffee: I should add that we've developed some screencasts of BusyCal and put them on our Website. Those are available right now. We have a BusyCal page, and on there is a link to the videos. My goal has been to release a screencasts each week, leading up to the pubic beta. We've done two so far, and we'll do about four more.

TMO: Very good. Have we covered everything?

Chaffee: I think we have.

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Comments

Dave Hamilton

We received a demo of BusyCal along with this interview, and I have to say I’m VERY impressed and simply can’t wait for the public beta when we can all finally start using it.  Some highlights:

Recurring To-Dos
Dated To-Dos (can) appear in monthly calendar (if desired)
Local alarms available on subscribed calendars
Images/Icons can be added to events (like Now Up-To-Date had)
Embedded weather and sunrise/sunset times
Tagging available for events and To-Dos

Tiger

I stopped entering data into iCal because I didn’t want to pay for MobileMe service.

I use the free Google Calendar, it syncs to my iCal on any computer, goes over the air to my iPhone, and it costs me nothing.

Can anybody compete with free?

Dave Hamilton

So, to me, it’s the user interface improvements that make BusyCal better than iCal. Tough to fully explain without you using it, but in a nutshell, iCal’s UI completely stinks.  It’s clunky and it doesn’t allow the user any real flexibility.  BusyCal solves all of these shortcomings and more.

On top of that, it does sync with SyncServices, which means if you DO have a MobileMe account, the data in BusyCal will sync with your iPhones, etc.

Lancashire-Witch

I’ll say iCal’s UI stinks.
Lotus Organiser - which came free with my IBM ThinkPad in 1996 was better.

As a simple example of how bad - What good is a birthday calendar that can’t tell me how old someone will be next birthday ??  When you have several grandchildren that sort of information is vital.

Tiger

Hmm. If you put their birth year behind their entry, won’t you know how old they are? GIGO.

Lancashire-Witch

Appending the birth year to the entry is my workaround. My point is that I shouldn’t have to engage in simple mental arithmetic when I have all this computing power in front of me. Even one of my previous Nokia phones could do it - and with an alarm.  It’s not mission-critical. It’s not a big deal. Its just a simple example of poor functional design. I don’t think I should be critical of iCal’s functional design without giving at least one example. Too many of these sorts of issues result in a clunky and inflexible product - to paraphrase Dave Hamilton.

Dave Hamilton

Actually, that was in my notes (and was the one note I didn’t repost above)—BusyCal shows you the age in the birthday calendar. wink

Per R?nne

A great lack in iCal has always been the missing week numbers - they seem to be used all over the world but the United States.

Another shortcoming is the primitive support of tasks, also called to-dos. I do hope that this will tasks will be supported i a proper way, and I even hope that BusyCal will support synchronization with Pocket Informant on the iPhone, the only PIM for this platform that I know of.

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