John Chaffee Talks About the New BusyCal

For people dissatisfied with the limitations of iCal, there is BusyCal. Beyond its numerous interface enhancements (such as sticky notes and recurring To Dos), the major draw of BusyCal has been calendar sharing. In particular, you can set up a calendar in BusyCal so that multiple users on a local network can both view and edit its events. Any change that one user makes to the calendar is instantly seen by everyone else who is sharing. My wife and I use this to make sure that we are both up-to-date with each other’s appointments.

It gets better. If you sync your calendars to your iPhone via MobileMe, any change you make to a calendar on any of your synced devices is almost instantly reflected on all of your devices and Macs — as well as to the devices and Macs of everyone who shares the calendar.

All of this works superbly well. At least it did until Apple threw a monkey wrench into the entire setup. With the new MobileMe Calendar (currently still in beta), Apple changed the way in which its calendars sync. In particular, rather than syncing via Sync Services (software primarily residing on your Mac), MobileMe now uses CalDAV. If you use the new MobileMe Calendar beta with iCal, you may not notice much change at the iCal end, as iCal has been updated to automatically accommodate the MobileMe shift. However, if you’ve been using BusyCal — and syncing your calendars via MobileMe — you ran into a roadblock. Until yesterday, BusyMac advised its users not to update to the new MobileMe Calendar beta as it was incompatible with BusyCal (actually the MobileMe beta is incompatible with any calendar software that depends on Sync Services).

All of that has now changed. With yesterday’s release of BusyCal 1.5 (also a beta version for now), BusyCal works with CalDAV servers. This means BusyCal and MobileMe are once again on good speaking terms. However, before you rush to upgrade BusyCal, pause and take a deep breath. As BusyMac puts it:

“Warning: You may upgrade to the BusyCal 1.5 public beta without any loss of functionality. However, upgrading to the MobileMe Calendar beta may require significant changes to your calendar sharing workflow and affect other members of your workgroup. Please read the documentation before upgrading to the MobileMe Calendar beta.”

To help understand all that has changed, why it changed, and how best to migrate to the new software, I sat down with John Chaffee, President of BusyMac, to get the answers.

Let’s start by walking through what a BusyCal user needs to do to safely upgrade to the new version of BusyCal.

First of all, unless you are syncing calendars via MobileMe, there is nothing special that you need to do. Just install the new 1.5 beta (or wait, if you wish, until 1.5’s official release) and you’re done. All local syncing of shared calendars will still work as before — as will syncing via iTunes. Even if you sync via MobileMe, if you aren’t yet planning to upgrade to the new Calendar beta, you are similarly good to go.

The caution flag is only for people wanting to use BusyCal with the new MobileMe Calendar beta. Even here, the only users who really need to be concerned are the ones who share calendars with other people and access those calendars over iOS devices via MobileMe. The main issue is that LAN calendars and Google Calendar subscriptions in BusyCal will not sync with the new MobileMe. For these users, some planning is required to make sure the transition goes smoothly.

Briefly, here are the steps to follow (see our tutorials for more details):

  1. Update and install BusyCal 1.5.
  2. If you haven’t yet upgraded to MobileMe Calendar beta, reset BusyCal.
  3. Upgrade to MobileMe Calendar beta. To do this, you have to be accepted by Apple to participate in the beta program.
  4. Once MobileMe Calendar beta is up and running, launch iCal. This will automatically convert iCal’s data to the new CalDAV format. Your calendars are now hosted on MobileMe’s servers, rather than on your Mac.
  5. Launch BusyCal. The MobileMe CalDAV hosted calendars should be listed. You’ll need to subscribe to them. Some additional final cleanup may be needed, especially for BusyCal’s unique data types, such as Stickys and Recurring To Dos.

At this point, if you don’t share your calendars with anyone else, you are done. If you do share calendars with other users, and especially if they have also upgraded to the new MobileMe Calendar beta, see this tutorial for what to do next.

If you are at all uncertain about what to do, please contact us before you upgrade.

Whew! I have to say, especialy for people like me who share calendars and sync them over MobileMe, this transition looks like it can get a bit complicated.

Yes. It will certainly take some planning. The good news is that, after this one time procedure is over, there is no more work to be done. Further, BusyCal 1.5 will work with most CalDAV servers, not just MobileMe.

Yup. But just to be clear, for two people with shared calendars and using separate MobileMe accounts to sync to their iPhones, local sharing in BusyCal is no longer an option. The initial sharing must be set up and maintained at the MobileMe server level. True?

Yes. However, local sharing remains an option in BusyCal for people who don’t share calendars via MobileMe. Actually, even with MobileMe, you can use local sharing between two users, as long as only one of the sharers is using MobileMe (as described here).

Given all that is involved in migrating to the version, BusyCal 1.5 appears to be more than just a typical .# update.

Yes. It took months and months of work. The shift to CalDAV is not a simple one. Not even for Apple. That’s probably why their MobileMe Calendar is still not out of beta testing.

Speaking of Apple, do you think that the MobileMe Calendar beta is just the initial salvo in an eventual transition that will lead to the end of Sync Services altogether?

I certainly hope so. Sync Services is far less stable than CalDAV. A problem with any one of the services synced by Sync Services can bring down the entire syncing system. Not so with CalDAV. CalDAV is complex, but very robust.

In the long run, the move to CalDAV will be better for Apple, better for BusyCal, and better for all users.

Given that users can now share calendars in iCal, via MobileMe Calendar beta, do you think this lessens the reasons to consider shifting to BusyCal from iCal?

To a minor extent, yes. However, BusyCal retains its sharing advantages over iCal for those users who do not user MobileMe.

In addition, BusyCal still has all of the interface enhancements not found in iCal, such as editable non-modal info window, recurring To Dos, live weather, and support for custom fonts and graphics.

And, if you do shift to MobileMe Calendar beta, the CalDAV interface supports many of BusyCal’s unique data types, such as recurring To Dos, Journals, Graphics and Attachments. This means that you can now sync these data between BusyCal clients through MobileMe.

You can also use BusyCal to directly sync with Google Calendar. 

What about future versions of BusyCal? With the shift to CalDAV, do you see the opportunity to add features beyond what’s in version 1.5, features that may further separate BusyCal from iCal?

Oh yes. Definitely. We have some surprises planned that I can’t reveal just yet, planned for Macworld Expo.