Saturday, July 12, 2008

iCal & MobileMe or Google Calendar?

Caveat: as for a lot of computing, preferences are entirely subjective. These are my opinions based on how I use iCal, Google Calendar. Your MO may be quite different from mine. That's okee-day. I happen to know there's a lot of folks pondering whether to keep paying the fee for MobileMe, or jump ship to free resources. Perhaps we can help each other out with some sage advice.
I've had great expectations for MobileMe since Jobs announced/demo'd it at WWDC. On the other hand, I was on the edge of diving into Google Apps more (Calendar) for family scheduling purposes since iCal was not filling the need adequately.

Needless to say, I was quite excited about MobileMe, thinking my $110/year (extra email) would now be more justifiable.

I'm one of those folks who has been with it since it was iTools. Every year a new iLife was announced with .Mac integration I got excited - but rarely ever use the additional features. Pretty much just email. So with the whole "push" thing, it seemed like it just might get there.

Since MobileMe was a ways out, I decided to give Google Calendar a whirl (not just toying with it as I've done for a year now). See, my family is down to two computers. My aging 17" PowerBook, and a "new", cheap P4 for family stuff. Though my work life is all about Apple, I'm one of those who just can't afford to lay out the $$ for a family iMac (not interested in mini's).

I've never been a "cloud computing" fan, always liked local desktop apps. Still do, but I'm getting used to the Google cloud now, and actually enjoying it.

See, the best thing about Google Calendar is that my wife and I, from each of our Google accounts, can edit and save all the calendars we share (we set them up that way). Can't do that in iCal. The other thing, prior to MobileMe, is that we can access our calendars from any computer anywhere. Can't do that in iCal, can in MobileMe.

So we've spent the better part of a month immersed in Google calendar for our boys' swimming events, family events, work schedules, and lots more. But in the back of my mind MobileMe lurked - would it work as well as Google Calendar? To be honest, I was assuming MobileMe would totally replace Google.

However, after lots of patience trying to get in to MobileMe, and finally doing so, I have been thus far disappointed.

First and foremost, it is slow. Mail in particular can be excruciating say just trying to click on "Sent" items. Now I understand the servers are still seeing high demand, so maybe it'll peter out in a week or two. But wow, is it slow. Even on my P4 with XP Pro SP2 - which is a lot snappier than my 1.33GHz G4 with 2GB RAM - MobileMe is slow.

I wrote a buddy who recently bought a new MacBook, and asked if it was fast on his machine and he said "nope".

I was honestly expecting it to be as snappy as in Apple's demo videos with good 'ol John at the helm.

Next up would be iCal vs. Google Calendar. iCal has To Do, Google Calendar does not. But Google Calender allows me to go into a calendar and choose not only to share it, but to set permissions as to what others can do (edit/delete, etc.). That has been awesome for my wife and me. Same calendars which both of us can edit from different Google accounts. Updates are instant on either account.

iCal/MobileMe cannot do that. At least with my current set up with my wife only having an email account. But with Google, we share the same calendars from different Google accounts ... for free.

So when I logged in for my wife. The only icons accessible to her were Mail, Contacts, and Account Settings. No calendar. I shook off the cobwebs and realized that's because she's email only. So I looked at Amazon and saw $135 for the MobileMe Family Pack, $150 at the Apple Store. Ugh, more money.

MobileMe = $135/year with no ads, a beautiful interface, we get to keep our beloved .mac/.me addresses, 20GB space - OR - Google Apps = FREE with ads (though to me they're unobtrusive), so/so interface with addresses, and less space. Hmmm.

Let's see, gas is $3.91/gal here in Hampton Roads, VA, our energy bills are set to jump over 9% this year, maybe more. FREE looks awfully attractive. But there's that nagging feeling that I'd be losing a friend - those (formerly) prestigious addresses. See, I've been a member since iTools, so it is sentimental.

So I decided to see if I could duplicate what we can do in Google Calendar in iCal: share a calendar with ability of assigning another person (wife) to edit and share from another account. Nope.

I was also excited about the whole Push thing. But I don't do iPhone (I'm a Verizon guy), so that doesn't matter ... and I don't do any data plans or email ... so it would be pushing between the cloud and my computers only.

So here's where I'm at: Google's Calendar is FREE, fast, stable, can be shared editing-wise. It is not as glamorous as iCal, doesn't have To Do's. It does have Google Notifier which is pretty darn awesome up in my menu bar, thank you very much.

iCal, local and pushed to the cloud, elegant client locally and MobileMe-ified. $110/yr, currently much slower than Google Calendar, can't be shared/edited in the cloud between multiple users, only viewed via subscription.

As of now, the balance is leaning toward Google Calendar. I will, of course, give Apple a few weeks to sort things out, namely speed. I don't see them altering how iCal is shared at this point. But for Apple to tout this as Exchange for the rest of us, they need to make calendars editable by the likes of secretaries in small businesses, co-workers, and family members.


Anonymous said...

I've already seen a big speed difference in the last two days. I'm pretty sure it will get better once everyone isn't trying everything at the same time.

We were also waiting to evaluate mobile me as we are switching our calendar system. The big plus for mobile me is the availability of a local copy of the data with a very fast local client - iCal.

If you use iCal as your primary interface and the web calendar only when you're away from your Mac/iPhone, speed is no longer an issue. Plus, if for any reason your internet access is down, you can still access your calendars/contacts. Which might not be an issue for casual use, but is important for us.

I'm betting it won't be long before someone develops an iCal/Google sync client for community calendar use.

Anonymous said...

I use GCal with BusySync to sync all my calendars with iCal. Works flawlessly and instantly, much much faster than MobileMe's push (which I'm currently evaluating), plus it copies notifications from iCal to GCal.

I'm now getting a good speed on Me's web interface, but the lack of features you mentioned and others like no way to filter emails makes it much less attractive to me. I might still end up signing up just for iDisk, but I'll probably stick with GApps for everything else.

Anonymous said...

I'm still struggling with this. I have been playing around with a lot of tools and none of them do everything I want.

However, I have my own domain but looking for a cost effective comprehensive solution. I don't have a lot of volume or need for vast amounts of space.

Hosting companies offer some not so bad services but I want to see my calendar and contacts online. MobileMe is very intriguing but doesn't host email so I refuse to pay $100+/year for this on top of what I have to pay.

I too ended up trying Google Apps. I moved my domain and pointed my email to google. Now google hosts my email and my site for free (or $50/year for non-ad version) but seems to lacks native integration and synchronization with contacts and calendar. Email syncs fine.

So... I have found that unless you use exchange and are Microsoft centric, a "be-all" - "end-all" solution doesn't exist.

Anonymous said...

I use ical and Google calendars - use Calgoo connect to sync everything up, and it works beautifully.