I'm a Christian, a designer, and a gadget fan who lives in Cheltenham, UK.

This is my blog, a creative outlet to mess around and play with as well as a place that logs my thoughts and inspirations.

The Two Mac Nightmare: Calendars

When I intro­duced this series of posts, I high­light­ed the main areas I want­ed to keep in sync between my Macs and a web inter­face for use at work. This post aims to intro­duce you to the method I use to keep my cal­en­dar in sync across the three areas.
On both my Macs I use iCal to keep things organ­ised. On the web I have a Google Apps For Your Domain (GAFYD) account set­up which includes a very nice cal­en­dar that mir­rors iCal nice­ly. In my quest to find a sync­ing method I’ve tried many dif­fer­ent routes but always felt that the com­bi­na­tion of iCal and gCal was the way for­ward and there are quite a few tools avail­able to enable this.

The Tools

The first tool that came avail­able was of course the first tool I tried. It’s also prob­a­bly the most well known, and goes by the name of Span­ning Sync. It installs via a pref­er­ence pane which enables you to con­fig­ure it with your Google account and enable ful­ly fledged bi-direc­tion­al sync. I used it when it was in beta and for the free tri­al peri­od once it was ful­ly released, but some­thing about it did­n’t quite feel right to me.
I’m already trust­ing a 3rd par­ty with my cal­en­dar infor­ma­tion by enabling this sync, what I did­n’t like about Span­ning Sync was the fact it did­n’t speak direct­ly to Google. Every­thing was passed through the Span­ning sync servers. I did­n’t want yet anoth­er 3rd par­ty serv­er hold­ing my infor­ma­tion, and adding an extra step in the sync meant, at least in my eyes, adding anoth­er thing that could break. How­ev­er, this was­n’t the only rea­son I did­n’t like Span­ning Sync. I did­n’t like the pric­ing method they were using. A sub­scrip­tion basis did­n’t sit right with me, espe­cial­ly at the price they were ask­ing. $65 for a life­time or $25 for a year. That felt expen­sive and turned me away in the search of anoth­er solu­tion.
For­tu­nate­ly for me this was at a time when a sec­ond option was just enter­ing the mar­ket in a beta. gSync1 had become avail­able and unlike Span­ning Sync it spoke direct­ly with Google and was not sub­scrip­tion based.
As with Span­ning sync I test­ed it for the beta peri­od and the free tri­al, but again I was left want­i­ng. Whilst the util­i­ty seemed to work there were always a few hic­coughs with the sync. It did­n’t always work and a cou­ple of times I was left to restore from back­ups and spend time on Google sort­ing out bro­ken cal­en­dars with sur­plus events. Not real­ly the ide­al solu­tion. I quick­ly grew tired of this and gave up for sev­er­al months, rely­ing on one copy of iCal and my mem­o­ry.
Just as I was begin­ning to get fed up and have ago at the all elu­sive sync, a new util­i­ty arrived on the mar­ket in the form of Busy­Sync. At the time it was only able to sync between 2 Macs on a local net­work (LAN), but I still gave it ago. It worked very well. I was able to set my iMac up as my “serv­er” and have it sync my iBook flaw­less­ly. I was very impressed, but still a lit­tle reluc­tant to com­mit as the web inter­face I need­ed was still elud­ing me.
Thank­ful­ly only a few months after launch Busy­Sync 2.0 was released and with it the abil­i­ty to sync with a Google Cal­en­dar. I tried it again, and once again I was impressed. The same ease of use that was in ver­sion 1.0’s sync over LAN was present with 2.0’s sync to Google. A sim­ple case of check­ing the right box­es after inputting my login details. Still I was­n’t sold instant­ly but after the 30 day tri­al end­ed I coughed up for a license.

The Setup

Ini­tial­ly I had my iMac set­up, as before, as my “serv­er”. It was pub­lish­ing my cal­en­dars for my iBook to sub­scribe to as well as pub­lish­ing them to my Google cal­en­dar. For a while this seemed to be work­ing, but then I hit a few road­blocks. I was­n’t turn­ing my iMac on as often as I need­ed, as a result I was­n’t get­ting iden­ti­cal sets of infor­ma­tion on Google and my iBook. Things were get­ting a bit out of sync. I changed the way I was han­dling things so that my iBook was sub­scribed to my Google cal­en­dar which was in turn sub­scribed to my iMacs cal­en­dars.
This worked, every­thing was stay­ing in sync and iden­ti­cal. But it did­n’t feel right to me. It did­n’t feel like I had a cen­tral point which act­ed as the “mas­ter” so I changed things again. This time export­ing my cal­en­dars from my iMac and import­ing them into my Google Cal­en­dar. Then using Busy­Sync I sub­scribed to the cal­en­dars from Google on my iMac and on my iBook. This was it. It felt right. It felt like a “cloud” and my cal­en­dars remained in sync no mat­ter what I did. Whether I was at work adding an event on my iBook adding an event or on my iMac adding an event. Every­thing came and went very nice­ly.

How does it work?

Stun­ning­ly, but that’s not what you want to know. Busy­Sync uses tech­nol­o­gy built into Mac OS X called Sync Ser­vices. As I under­stand it that tech­nol­o­gy presents Busy­Sync with the cal­en­dar data the moment you com­plete enter­ing it, and Busy­Sync push­es it to Google. That means usu­al­ly with­in a minute of mak­ing a change in iCal it is reflect­ed on Google. Unfor­tu­nate­ly the oth­er direc­tion does­n’t quite work the same way. Get­ting events from Google is still a pull sys­tem, check­ing at a spec­i­fied inter­vals for new events and changes. How­ev­er, set­ting it to check every minute pret­ty much enables the same feel­ing, and events feel like they appear almost instant­ly2. It can’t get much bet­ter than that!
Please stay tuned for the next two install­ments of my series on keep­ing two Macs in sync. I’ll be tack­ling emails and con­tacts as well as those few impor­tant files you need in mul­ti­ple places.

  1. After I’d writ­ten the main body of this post I could­n’t find a link to gSync. It was cre­at­ed by a com­pa­ny called Mac­ness but their web­site no longer seems to be alive. I guess the project died.?
  2. I have this set­up on both my iMac and iBook. As the bat­tery on my iBook is foo­bar’d and I have it per­ma­nent­ly plugged in I don’t know how this would impact bat­tery life. Hav­ing spo­ken with John, one of Busy­Sync’s devel­op­ers, I thought I would pass on this piece of infor­ma­tion regard­ing bat­tery life.

    If you have Busy­Sync set to sync every minute with Google Cal­en­dar, it could very well be keep­ing your Mac from going to sleep, and will run down your bat­tery. I rec­om­mend that you change the Google Sync inter­val to be greater than your sleep inter­val.
    Set­ting Google to sync every minute does­n’t buy you much. Any changes you make local­ly will sync imme­di­ate­ly, and if you’re con­cerned that some­thing has changed on Google since the last pull, you can select the Sync Now menu com­mand from the Busy­Sync Menu bar icon.

    ?