BusyCal 1.0: It’s About Time

| In-Depth Review

Apple ships a lot of free software with Mac OS X. Some of those apps aren't considered world-class, so doors open for developers. iCal is one of those apps that has limped along and created an opportunity for BusyMac. The bottom line: if you're a serious calendar user, you should upgrade immediately to BusyCal.

Preamble

To understand why you may need to upgrade, it's necessary to look at iCal first. For many casual Mac users, iCal is sufficient. An occasional birthday party or dinner at mom's needs to be entered and an alarm set. Simple enough.

Apple's corporate resources also come into play. If Apple feels that the current version of iCal is satisfactory, not a lot of complaints are received, and the app is deemed well enough debugged, it'll be hard for the Mac OS X product manager to justify the funding required to move the app from good enough to world class.

Of course, that creates a dilemma for Apple employees as well. Throughout the history of iCal (prior to Snow Leopard), it was never considered enterprise worthy, and so Apple itself never used it as the corporate planning and calendaring tool. That might have set off some alarms in some circles at Apple. For example, "If it isn't good enough for us, then it isn't good enough for our customers." But that didn't happen.

Meanwhile, a lot of Macintosh users live and die by their calendar. Writers, journalists, actors, business people, small business managers, computer consultants, state and local government people, just to name a few, all depend mightily on their calendar to keep appointments and meet obligations.

This is where BusyCal comes into play. When second best won't do, you move to a commercial application that's driven by the passion of the developer and the stress-induced needs of the customers who won't settle for annoyances or half-hearted programming.

That's why BusyMac calls BusyCal "iCal Pro," and provides five good reasons why one should considerBusyCal. If you fall into that class I described above, then US$40 is a small price to pay to wrest you from annoyance and into bliss.

The Review

For those who are still not convinced, read on. I'll describe some of the crucial differences between iCal and BusyCal.

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BusyCal main screenshot (one of many possible views) 

First off, however, I should note that BusyCal draws from the same dataset as iCal. Information entered into iCal shows up in BusyCal and vice versa. That means that you could actually use both apps simultaneously. If you, for some unfathomable reason, decide to abandon BusyCal, nothing is lost. That's just one sign of right thinking by the BusyCal developer that percolates throughout the product.

Let's look at an item in month view in iCal and then in BusyCal.

 

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iCal

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BusyCal

Note that in iCal, the time isn't shown. [Update: It turns out, that's an option in preferences I missed.] That's not very helpful. Moreover, if you want to edit the item in iCal, double clicking isn't enough. You'll have to go through another step and click the "Edit" button. (To bypass that, use Get Info, CMD-I instead.) In BusyCal, double clicking the event brings up an edit window right away. The default presentation and the editing process, it seems, have been better thought out in BusyCal.

 

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iCal

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BusyCal

Here's another key differences. BusyCal adds a List view to Day, Week and Month. That's helpful if you want to generate a list of events in order to create a different kind of event awareness. Or to share with others in a more digestible form than a classic calendar presentation.

BusyCal adds even more in terms of situational awareness. First, weather forecast for five days can be added to the corner of each day block, and shows up in Day, Week or Month mode as "all day." Even the time of sunset and sunrise is tracked and is displayed as a shaded area in the Day mode. That way, if necessary, you'll be able to determine if an event is going to have you (or attendees) traveling or getting home after dark. It's a thoughtful touch that adds to the technical process of planning events.

I'll mention three more nice items. The first is a sticky note that can be created for each day and is visible in all modes. It appears as a small, yellow Post-It-like icon. The second is a banner for things that last over a period of time, and you want to call it out visually. For example, Macworld.

 

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BusyCal Sticky

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BusyCal Banner

Third, text in the calendar can be rich text for those who like to add a bit if differentiation or flair to events. (Activated with SHFT-CMD-F. While font management customarily uses CMD-T in apps like KeyNote and Pages, CMD-T is used for "go to today" in iCal, and so that protocol is preserved.)

These are some of the visual and practical niceties that BusyCal brings to the table that will make managing your calendar easier, more visual and more fun.

The Heavy Hitters

I brought those items up first because they speak to the immediate visual utilization of a calendar program, something that can be a deal breaker when dropping an old friend and moving to a new, commercial app. However, there's a whole lot more beneath the hood of BusyCal. Let me just present the formal list here, and then I'll touch on some of them.

  1. Sync calendars via Bonjour — Sync calendars with others on your local area network, without the need for a dedicated server.
  2. Sync with Google Calendar — Sync with Google Calendar for online access to your calendar from any computer, anywhere.
  3. Sync with the iPhone — Sync calendars with the iPhone via iTunes or MobileMe.
  4. Multi-user editing — Multiple users can share and edit calendars with full read-write access. Changes are synced instantly.
  5. Security — Calendars can be password protected as read-write or read-only, and encrypted with SSL.
  6. Offline Editing — Changes made to a calendar while offline are automatically synchronized when you reconnect to the network.
  7. Recurring ToDos — Create repeating ToDos that display in the calendar view and carry-forward until completed.
  8. Info Panel — Enter and view event details in a non-modal,floating window or an embedded info pane.
  9. List View — Customizable list view lets you filter and sort events by date, event type, calendar, and more.
  10. Live Weather — View live weather forecasts, sunrise/sunset times, and moon phases right in your calendar.
  11. Graphics — Add graphics to events or days with control over the position, size and opacity.
  12. Sticky Notes — Add virtual sticky notes to your calendar, and share/sync them with others on your network!
  13. Rich Text — Stylize the events in your calendar with customizable fonts, sizes, styles and colors.

Perhaps the signature Big Feature of BusyCal is the ability to interactively edit and sync calendars on the LAN. BusyMac has prepared a series of short, very clear video tutorials, and "Publish to LAN" is one of them. This tutorial demonstrates the quintessential use of this feature: a husband who wants to share is work calendar with his wife (read-only) -- and the wife wants to share her home and school calendars with her husband. Not only can these calendars be shared and changes instantly seen, but they can be set as read-write or read-only. If you watch none of the other videos, watch this one, and you'll be sold.

I suggest watching the customizable view video next. It'll provide a sense of how the customization of the views of BusyCal can assist with calendar operations. The use of color and an intuitive visual design makes working with BusyCal a joy.

Search works in a way you might not expect. Essentially, items that meet the search criteria remain, everything else is filtered out. Not only can you search on title, location, notes, but you can search on custom tags. For example, "my business." (Note that not all info panel items are enabled by default. If you don't see "tags," hit the small "i" on the top right of the info panel.)

I've already covered weather, stickies, banners, rich text and the floating info panel. The final thing I want to note is the ability to password protect and encrypt calendars. Just as with log-on authentication in UNIX, essential for IT managers in the enterprise, these BusyCal security features will be welcome for managers and executives who have sensitive company events, meetings or ToDo items to protect from prying eyes.

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Another way to view (Week)

Documentation

The user guide for BusyCal is online, 27 pages if printed, and is very visual, with lots of screen shots to guide you. Due to the nature of the program, being limited in scope to managing a calendar instead of, say, writing a novel, it's easy (at least for this developer) to explain key functions with a few words and example screen shots. That makes learning the app easy instead of tedious. That's the way it should be. I consider the documentation (user guide plus videos) excellent.

Curtain Call

In this review I've tried to provide a feel for the evolution (or lack of same) for iCal, the immediate visual advantages of BusyCal, and some of the deeper technology items that will take managing a calendar from a second thought to part of a productive collaboration with others. In no case did I find a significant feature present in iCal but missing in BusyCal, so iCal is generally a subset of BusyCal. (However, BusyMac points out that BusyCal doesn't support calendar groups or robust Applescript support as iCal does.)

Here at The Mac Observer several of us have been beta testing BusyCal for months, using the public beta, and we wholeheartedly agree that this application has changed our lives. In this business, we run across many, many applications. Some are short-lived and soon forgotten, but BusyCal is right up with our essential daily apps. It'll change your life too if you even have a passing need for a more robust calendar program with ToDos and alarms.

David Pogue is famous for his "Missing Manual" series. The manual that "should have been in the box." BusyCal is the missing calendar app that Apple should have put in the Mac OS X box but didn't.

Best of all, you can try it out free for 30 days before coughing up the modest $40 per computer. A 20 percent discount is available for multiple copies. Just download it and try it out. It'll automatically see all your iCal data. BusyCal requires Mac OS X Leopard or later.

I like this app a lot. It has that feel of the quintessential Mac application in perfect harmony with its host OS and its user.

Product: BusyCal 1.0

Company: BusyMac

List Price: US$40.00 (per computer)

Pros:

Lots of essential, well thought out features, intuitive design, LAN publishing, excellent user guide and videos, fairly priced.

Cons:

None.

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6 Comments Leave Your Own

ctwise

The one major missing portion of iCal that isn’t in BusyCal is support for Exchange calendars.  BusyCal will show a read-only view of Exchange calendar events but to edit them or create new ones in the Exchange calendar you’ll have to switch to iCal.

bizzkit

iCal does show event time in month view. You have to turn it on in Preferences> General.

I tried the beta and BusyCal is a great calendar program. But I use a desktop and laptop and can’t justify the $40 per computer pricetag.

Fred2014

Contrary to the reviewer’s comments, the current version of iCal (4.0) does show time of events in month view.  A deal maker for me would be the ability to scroll month views continuously instead having to click on the month advance arrow.

ral

Also note that BusyCal does not support CALDAV calendars on OS X Server. A real dealbreaker for me

John Martellaro

The readers are correct about event times in month view for iCal.  It’s in Preferences -> general.

-JM

Old School

One of the most infuriating problems with iCal used to be that when you opened an item, you had to click “Edit” to, well, edit the item. Now, though, in iCal 4.0, this is not the case. Items open up to a happily editable state. It took me a couple of days to notice this, but it’s true. Also, banners have, as far as I remember, always been available in iCal. I agree that a scrollable month view would be welcome. A feature that I have been hoping to see, that is available in Entourage, is the ability to assign an event to more than one calendar. For instance, if I have a calendar for each of my sons and they are both going to the same event, I’d like to be able to indicate that by selecting them both for that event.

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