One of my favorite Mac utility apps just went mobile. I always loved the way Fantastical makes entering calendar events and reminders. Simple English, it’s fast and very accurate. Using an advanced natural language engine, Fantastical is extremely expressive, allowing users enter event details in their own style. For example, enter a sentence such as [...]
Allison Sheridan of the NosillaCast podcast here, hosted at podfeet.com. This review took me a long time, but it’s a good story why. I don’t know if the listeners realize this, but Tim and I both believe in doing realistic reviews, but we also want to be fair to the developers. So if there’s a problem with an application, we like to contact the developers and discuss it with them and see if perhaps we’re misunderstanding a feature, or whether there’s maybe an incompatibility the didn’t know about, or perhaps a bug they had yet to discover. On a few rare occasions we actually tell the developer that their product is just not ready to be reviewed, and they’re usually relieved to hear that rather than a scathing review. To be honest, with my reviews, more often than not I learn something I didn’t know and the developers get a great opportunity to improve their products.
When Tim asked me to review BusyCal from busymac.com I jumped in with both feet. I’d always heard great things about their product BusySync, so I figured BusyCal had to be great too. Now the reason I told you that long story of how noble Tim and I are with developers is because I struggled a bit with BusyCal at first, and it turns out it’s in public beta so that was actually to be expected. I wrote to them and John wrote back, asked for log files, they fixed the code and all of the issues I was having were resolved. Again let me say how much I like shareware and freeware developers, so much better response than you get from someone big like Apple. Good onya BusyMac!
Now that’s not all John did, John also spent a lot of time asking my questions and clarifications on BusyCal because I just couldn’t get my head wrapped around it…for the last four weeks! The reason i was confused is because BusySync is so capable i couldn’t figure out what made BusyCal special, but when it finally hit my dense little brain, I had one of those d’oh! moments! Ok, here’s my brilliant revelation. BusySync lets you sync your iCal Calendar to Google Calendar and between iCal users on your network. BusyCal REPLACES iCal as your calendaring program. Gee, that should have been easy to figure out now shouldn’t it?
Ok, let’s get into it. BusyCal, like BusySync, gives you the the ability to sync calendars across a Local Area Network, or LAN, which is geek speak for your home or work network. The second big feature is the ability to sync your local calendar with Google Calendar. When you do the local area network sync, the shared calendars are able to have read and write access – so changes on one computer change the calendar on the other computer. This could really help families to stay synced – like MacSparky’s David Sparks would know if Daisy had booked him to go to his own mother’s birthday party and he wouldn’t make other plans at the same time. See how BusyCal can bring peace and harmony to your home?
Before I started testing BusyCal, I would just send calendar events to my family, they would receive them in their mail and then accept (or decline depending on their mood at the time) and then it plops into their calendars. From my perspective I liked it because they CAN’T change the date and time!
With BusyCal you put it on all the machines between which you want to share calendars. then you open the calendar you want to share, and right click on it and tell it to share over LAN. As soon as you do that, the calendar shows up on all of the BusyCals in your network. I tested it between Steve and I and it really confused him – “Hey, I didn’t put that event there!” which was awesome. We can both move the event around, change the name, do anything we want to it and both machines are in sync as close to instantaneously as you can measure!
I also tested out the sync to Google Calendar, which again is a feature of BusySync that I’ve been lusting after for years. I linked my calendar to my Google calendar by going to Calendar –> Add Google Login. Nice and obvious! I can add events to my BusyCal calendar and they show up in Google Calendar, and also in iCal. I can add invitees and all the usual things I can do in iCal so that’s great. I did notice one thing – I added Bart to an invite, and when I look on Google Calendar I can’t see that Bart is invited. I can add more invitees though, which is great. The reason I care so much about that is that on the iPhone i can’t add invitees, and on MobileMe I can’t add invitees, so if I could add them in Google calendar, that would propagate now to my iCal, BusyCal, iPhone version of iCal and it’s all good. I’ve really needed a mobile way to add invitees to calendar events and it looks like BusyCal does that for me.
I sort of started this in the middle by telling you what BusyCal does that BusySync does, but I wanted to explain that part first and then get into BusyCal. So think about BusyCal as the calendar iCal should have been, sort of an iCal on steroids. When you first launch BusyCal, it looks a lot like iCal so it’s familiar but it has a polish to it that’s missing in iCal.
By default BusyCal shows you the phases of the moon and the weather where you are. The phases of the moon aren’t particularly interesting to me, but the weather is cool. I live where the weather pretty much never changes, but if you live in, say Maynooth, Ireland, you might want to know what day you can actually go outside and take pictures of trains or flowers. You can, of course, toggle on and off things like the moon and weather so it’s completely tailorable to what you like.
One annoyance of iCal for me is that if you’re in the month at a glance view, you can’t see the time of your events, only the day. In BusyCal you get to see the times as well. iCal has what they call the Inspector which will show a selected event in a separate floating window. When you create a new event in iCal it does sort of a popup version of the Inspector, and I find it exceedingly irritating. My instincts on how to enter dates and times must be wrong in some way because it’s always honking at me that I’ve hit the wrong key, like I hit enter and it doesn’t like that. iCal makes you use the mouse to finish an event. With BusyCal you get a panel in the right sidebar that is beautifully integrated where you enter all of the information for the event, and it never once honked at me that I was doing it wrong.
BusyCal features a much advanced To Do integration. To Do’s show in your right sidebar above the info panel, showing you what day they’re due. I didn’t play with this feature a lot, as I don’t actually keep a to do list myself! I make little ones in Stickies for a given day, or perhaps in Zenbe Lists if there’s a lot to do on a day, but since I’m not using my Mac for work, my home life is pretty easy to track what I have to get done day to day. there’s a bunch of tailoring you can do for the side info panel – you can choose what items to show for events for example. Let’s say you never enter a url for an event, you can just shut that off so it doesn’t show. nice to have that flexibility. One thing I’d like to see is if you click on a To Do in the right sidebar, if it would highlight that To Do in the calendar view – right now it shows what date it’s due in the sidebar but not in the calendar itself. If you like To Dos, one thing you know is that you have some items on your list that you have to do every week or every month – say something like “pay bills”. Believe it or not, iCal doesn’t accommodate repeating ToDos, but BusyCal does!
I love the way BusyCal moves. when you’re in the month view for example, and you click the arrow to go to the next month, the current month slides to the left to show the next month. It seems like a little thing, but it’s very elegant feeling and doesn’t add any delay to getting to the dates you want to view. After using BusyCal for a while, iCal felt kind of clunky in comparison. I put images in the shownotes of the same view in iCal and BusyCal so you can see the differences, but it can’t show you how it moves!
BusyCal even features a list view which is a handy way to get situational awareness – all of your events in an easy to scan list. In most cases I think you’ll prefer the normal calendar view but again it’s nice to have the flexibility to meet your own tastes, and of course even the list view is tailorable.
One constant aggravation to me is when someone sends me a calendar invite and they haven’t put an alarm on it. My memory is so bad I HAVE to have alarms! With BusyCal you can actually modify an event to add an alarm! now if they’d let me add someone else to the invite I’d be in heaven. I maintain multiple calendars that aren’t allowed to be synced, so using invites is critical to me.
With BusyCal you can make your calendar more fun – by using rich text formatting to make your text stand out, and also by adding graphics. I guess I’m an old fuddy duddy because adding graphics to a calendar never really blew my dress up. I couldn’t easily get the hang of how to add graphics – i could paste them into an event but if the graphic was big, it didn’t resize, and so I found myself changing the length of time the event lasted in order to make it fit the graphic, which makes zero sense! I’m sure I’m doing this wrong but like I said, fuddy duddy is the way I roll.
So here’s the bottom line. If you want calendar syncing across your home computers, and you want to be able to seamlessly sync to Google Calendar from your Mac, you should check out BusySync. If you ALSO find iCal clunky and annoying and missing some key features, you should really check out BusyCal. Let’s talk pricing now. BusySync is $25 per computer to get the Google and LAN syncing, and BusyCal is $40 per computer. The folks at BusyMac are brilliant though – they give you a 20% discount when buying multiple copies. I like that pricing plan because you don’t have to commit to five copies or anything like that to get a discount. So here’s what you should do: let’s say your family thinks iCal is fine, you could give them BusySync, and just treat YOURSELF to BusyCal for all the nice features! Check it out at busymac.com. Many thanks to John for his unending patience with me!
I told Tim that I have a one minute review, and he mocked me – said it couldn’t be done! He’s probably right, but it’s hard to imagine I could spend more than a minute on this one – it’s simplicity itself, and that’s one of the best part of this app!
Let me back up a bit. I have been trying trying to learn Aperture but it’s been slow going getting my brain wrapped around letting a program organize my photos instead of being the natural control freak that I am. I am one of the few people on earth who kept her photos in photo albums, dated and everything, back in the days when we used to print them. Then with digital photography I started right out naming every photo, organizing them in folders by event and date. I tried iPhoto so many times but I couldn’t get it to behave, so when Aperture came out and found it would let me maintain all my anal folders, I knew it was worth getting into it.