How To Supercharge Your Calendar With BusyCal

If you are anything like me, you have scraps of paper lying around with dates, times, and names all over the place. Hopefully, you aren’t relying mainly on your head to keep yourself on-time and in the right location. Maybe you are stuck in the world of iCal misery, with syncing problems and duplicating events.

This is where BusyCal from BusyMac proves to be something of a lifesaver. If you are familiar with iCal, the transition to BusyCal shouldn’t be too difficult. Plus, you will enjoy some added bonuses such as powerful synchronization tools and live data built into the Month view.

iCal Pro?

Some refer to this app as “iCal Pro”, which, after a few minutes of playing with the application, I can completely understand. Once opened, you will notice the very close similarities to Apple’s default application, initially with the nearly identical layout and ‘Month’ view.

iCal - For Posterity!

iCal - For Posterity!

The Main BusyCal Interface

The Main BusyCal Interface

However, BusyCal also supports the new ‘List’ view, initially featured in the iPhone’s iCal Application:

List View

List View

Also, their Week view differs slightly, and in my opinion, BusyCal improves greatly on the one available in plain old iCal. I like seeing the ‘Month’ view like boxes at the top, dividing the ‘Week’ view column:

Week View

Week View

Sync Runs in the Family

The biggest feature of BusyCal is the ability to easily and reliably synchronize your events and to-do’s between other Macs using iCal or BusyCal, to the web with Google Calendar, or to your mobile device.

While BusyCal uses Apple’s Sync Services, which is similar to the way iCal synchronizes, their development team seems to have the syncing nailed to a far more reliable level.

A huge reason Mac users have switched to BusyCal is the ability to instantly share calendars across a local network. The instant you make changes, or add events, they appear on the other computer. It seems to be the promise of MobileMe in the real world. Now, I don’t wish to be harsh on Apple’s somewhat reliable MobileMe service. For many Mac users, it will work perfectly, synchronizing your data between your computers, the web service and your iPhone/iPod Touch. However for those who need nearly instantaneous ‘push’ features, it can tend to fall behind.

BusyCal also offers a very reliable Google Calendar sync option. The changes are pushed up to Google, and remote changes are pushed back down to BusyCal. If you are looking for something to replace your MobileMe subscription, Google Calendar and Google Sync Services are free and provide sync connections between your computer, online and your iPhone/iPod Touch. Also BusyCal can subscribe to online calendars, just like iCal.

Subscribing to a Calendar

Subscribing to a Calendar

If you click Calendar in the Menu Bar and select Find WebDAV Calendars… you will be sent to BusyMac’s WebDAV Calendar page, which allows you to subscribe to sports and holiday calendars.

Now, before heading straight to comments to tell me that iCal supports Google Calendar as well, I wish to emphasize that reliability is key, and with CalDAV (through personal experience) things can get out of sync quickly and without notice. While iCal does support CalDAV, it doesn’t allow for you to store To Do’s or synchronize alarms or create new calendars on your computer that are sent to Google. All of these features are what makes using BusyCal a better option for heavy Google Apps users.

One last note on syncing, BusyCal does not currently support Exchange accounts, which iCal in Mac OS 10.6 Snow Leopard does.

Spicing Up Your Calendar

Not that calendars need to be exciting, but iCal is very minimal and simple when it comes to similar applications. Like Outlook (Windows) or Entourage (Mac), it isn’t exciting to look at.

You can easily add graphics by dragging photos directly from your computer or a web browser. Resize and click away to save the heart for Valentine’s day, or the picture of the US’s first President, George Washington for his birthday. These images are also synced via the local network to other BusyCal users. However, they cannot be sent through the internet to appear on Google or any computer just using iCal.

Sticky Notes

Sticky Notes

Another feature I have found extremely useful is the ability to show live weather feeds right in the calendar. It is really nice not to have to turn on the Weather channel on the TV, or even to have to open up an app on my iPhone. I can easily check to see if I’ll need flip flops or an umbrella as I browse my appointments. There is even an option to show the moon phases, and quickly jot down sticky notes.

In-Built Weather

In-Built Weather

Other Nice Features

To Do’s in iCal can be handy, as they allow synchronizing between GTD (Getting Things Done- for more information check out David Allen’s book, or our roundup of GTD apps for your Mac) applications like Things or OmniFocus.

BusyCal makes tracking what you need to get done each day even easier. One major upgrade over iCal is the ability to show tasks in the actual day (should a date be assigned) compared to just in the To Do pane. While To Do’s can only be synced between other BusyCal or iCal users (Google Calendar and MobileMe don’t support them yet), it is a step in the right direction for keeping what needs to be done in check.

While iCal allows for calendar publishing to private servers and MobileMe, this app will help you connect to other BusyCal users across the net. This allows for synchronizing over the internet and not just your local network.

Backing up with iCal is supported through Time Machine. BusyCal uses its own database system, so it will keep separate backup files, which in turn should be saved within Time Machine. Restoring occurs from within the Backup tab of the Preferences.

Backup Support

Backup Support

Should something go awry, you can reset the sync history from the Help menu and completely reset the entire application by holding the Option/Alt key during launch.

Startup Options

Startup Options

A final feature, which may spark a love of this application, is the ability to change the font size and typeface. If you are just tired of Lucida Grande 11, you are welcome to change it to fit your personal style.

Conclusion

After trying several applications, from the far too powerful Daylite, to the far too simple iCal, BusyCal has found a special place in my dock. The synchronization features are top notch and reliable. I love the ability to connect with my Google Apps Calendar, and LAN based syncing is flawless.

The design is kept similar to iCal, which makes it very easy to understand and jump right in. It even continues to keep iCal up to date should you ever need to go back. Over time, the keyboard shortcuts have made it easy to add banners, sticky notes and To Do’s without a hiccup.

BusyCal offers a great alternative to iCal, with more power and syncing tools. While it isn’t exactly made to mesh with the Windows world, both families and Mac centric businesses can benefit from its shared calendar features. It’s priced at $49 for one user, or $79 for a family license.

I highly recommend this as an iCal replacement, but definitely take a look at some of their competitors: NowUpToDate, Entourage and Sunbird. If you are just looking for an ability to sync to Google Calendar, BusySync is a great option, as is the pricier SpanningSync, which also synchronizes your contacts with your Gmail Account.

So, what do you use to manage your hectic day?


  • kdesign

    BusyCal looks great. I always liked icals interface and it looks very similar. I wish ical had the fun features this app does.

    The only reason I can’t use it is that it doesn’t have native support for Exchange. I have had to use Entourage with its bugs and bad interface and FINALLY ical has exchange support. Many people who are in a work environment use Exchange. I have to have an application for my calendars and email that support it, so therefore I will have to stick to ical. Unless there is a better option for Snow Leopard that supports exchange? (not just reading events – editing as well)

  • Julien

    Very simple : iCal. It is perfect for me. I use it as a desktop/offline version of my Google calendar. It is worth mentioning that on Snow Leopard the sync between iCal and Google works perfectly, and is easy to setup.

    On the other side, my iPhone syncs with Google cal, and I have offline/online/mobile versions of my agenda.

    To be honest, I’ve read carefully your (great) article, but I could find any reason (for me) to pay as much as $49 for a soft offering no breakthrough feature.

    Again, this is only my point of view…

  • http://@snow_blind Matt

    I agree with kdesign. BusyCal looks really nice but i too am stuck with work email via exchange as well as the my own personal google ‘stuff’.

    I guess i’ll to have to wait until either ical gets better and adds some of these cool features (and greater reliability) or Busy cal adds native exchange support.

    Until then i’ll carry on with mail & ical… at least it’s waaaaay better than my entourage experience was! :D

  • David Ferguson

    Following Julien.

    BusyCal looks good and all, but I can’t justify paying $50 for it. That’s a little much for a calendar app in my opinion.

    • Thierry Boonen

      I agree with David and Julien. Too expensive for non-critial (IMHO) features

  • Austin

    Since Google Calendar supports calDAV, I just used Calaboration to set that up for my calendars, then just use Google Tasks in a fluid menu app to have instant access to those.

  • Terence

    I think this looks great, unlike others I cannot get google sync to work. I can read the calender, but not write to it.

    I am definitely going to take advantage of the 30 day free trial and give it a shot.

  • http://withoutink.com withoutink

    I was an iCal user for some time. Once BusyCal came over I switched, I was a user of their BusySync app and received an upgrade offer. I am very happy I took it. I love the extra functionality and the syncing just works. Now if they only had an app for syncing the address book =)

    • Jacknife

      MobileMe will sync Address Book. I use it on 2 Macs and my iPhone to sync Address Book and iCal with no problems.

  • http://www.maddogstudios.net Mhaddy

    I’ve been using BusySync & iCal for years now and with the exception of a few recurring events that I simply cannot delete, it’s been flawless. While there are a few neat “nice-to-have” features offered by BusyCal – like the others above, I simply cannot justify the $50 upgrade. Good write-up!

  • Tom Ryder

    Does BusyCal sync with Exchange/Outlook kind of systems?

  • http://www.dogshadow.net David

    I use MobileMe and iCal, and I synchronize my iPhone, MacBook Pro and MacMini. I have one calendar published and embedded in my website. I have worked this way for about 6 months. I have had no sync problems yet. I have to refresh the calendar to my website when I update it, but the other ones work automatically. Should I be expecting problems in the future?

  • http://simplyblog.net Miguel Wickert

    Yeah, $50 is rough. Can’t do it. Thanks for sharing.

  • http://jepchumba.com Jepchumba

    I tried the 30 day trial for Busycal and I did enjoy the calendar and some of its features, but at the end of the day it just didn’t pack enough punch for me to justify spending $50 on it. I would suggest that they cut down the price for the app so that they would have more willing buyers otherwise the next best thing is to add more project management features and perhaps add an address book and mail compartment to it, make it more like an entourage or an ALL in ONE app.

  • Justin Noel

    I did pay the $49. Why? Because I cannot stand the default snooze options in iCal. Overall, I am happy with BusyCal. However, now that I am stuck using Exchange with Mail.app, I’m really disappointed that BusyCal has no support for it. If I need to create an entry on my corporate calendar, I still have to open iCal. This is lame.

    For $49, I need a full solution…

    Also, I’ve contacted BusyMac about the snooze pop-up windows and how you can’t change anything without actively clicking on it first. You can’t use the tab key to tab between fields in the snooze dialog. There answer? We’re not fixing it.

  • love2helpu

    I have been going crazy with all of these different calendars. First I was using Entourage but I had several problems with it. Then I switched to iCal and now I have multiples of the same calendar entry. So I recently switched to a free online calendar – http://www.casablast.com. So far so good. It’s working well for the whole family. If that doesn’t work – our next attempt will be busycal.

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  • Sue

    After fighting with the new iCal (OS Lion), I was very happy to find BusyCal – and I’m thinking it might even be worth the $. I wish Apple hadn’t changed iCal so much – there are many features that I miss, making my work and time much less productive.

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  • Matthew Rathbun

    Really great product that is totally useless to me… Without Exchange support, it’s too much of a headache to use. Very, very sad.

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