From Denny Magcalas, Fayetteville, Arkansas
Is it safe and secure to keep my calendar online? What's the difference between a Google calendar, an Exchange calendar, and an intranet calendar?
People have been using calendars since before Stonehenge was built. The way of reckoning cycles and our planet's annual circuit around the sun have varied across cultures and millennia, but we've always found calendars to be at least useful (if not fascinating).
Even if you're not a freak about organizing, chances are that you keep track of things you've done -- or that you need to do -- to some degree on a calendar. Whether it's your insurance company's yearly "gift" stuck to the refrigerator by magnets or a computerized version, I'd recommend having an online, Web-accessible calendar for a number of reasons.
Like anything else online, having your calendar accessible to yourself and others from the Internet is convenient, but not without potential hazards. Still, this doesn't mean you can't take precautions (like having a secure password) that will minimize your risks.
So the "is it safe and secure?" question can be answered by: "as much as you make it." You can ask the same of driving a car on a public roadway, and the answer will be the very same. If you go driving around with a flat tire and no seat belt, then you're asking for trouble -- and trouble will find you.
All I'm saying is that security is relative; the weakest link is usually a human being (ask a friend if he'd hand over his email password for $50). Bottom line: don't share your password. Ever. And if you do decide to take your calendar online, make sure you go with a reputable vendor.
I generally try to avoid specific recommendations because I realize that (as in-tune with all things online as I try to be) I'm not aware of everything that's available.
But I would be negligent if I didn't give you the heads-up on at least one solution that I strongly feel could be useful.
So here goes: Anybody can sign up for and use a Google Calendar, and it's not likely that Google is going to disappear at any point in the near future. The chances of your friends, colleagues, and family already being on Google is pretty high, too. Another of its big "selling" points in this day of careful expenditures is that it's totally free.
Microsoft Exchange, on the other hand, is really more for groups who need a full-on suite of groupware applications -- you might only use this in a business environment, but seldom at home or for personal use. It's also not likely to be free, but you might not need to spend too much money to get a hosted Exchange server, either. A few dollars a month could give you a universally accessible personal information manager, including via the Web or mobile device. For most users, it's simply overkill.
An "Exchange calendar" could also be considered an "intranet calendar." Whereas the Internet (and the aforementioned Google Calendar) is accessible by everybody, an intranet is private (set up for specific individuals, usually working for the same company). You may have no choice if this is what your company uses, but trying to share your calendar with others outside your intranet / Exchange environment may be close to impossible (if not wholly impractical).
Calendars can be messy to deal with, certainly -- because each solution has its benefits and drawbacks.
If you decide to stick with a digital calendaring solution, I might also make a recommendation for Plaxo on either Windows or Mac OS X. I use it to keep all of my calendars in sync (Exchange, iCal, Google, etc.) for free, though there is a pro version available if you'd like a few extra features.
There's only so much I can cover here, but I'm really hoping that the community will offer its own suggestions and tips for working with calendars in groups or between individuals online.
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