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?