Pulse Apple

Leopard: iCal

We already heard about the group calendars feature in iCal when Apple unveiled some of its plans for OS X 10.5 in August 2006. To recap what we learned then, Leopard iCal was supposed to allow other people to edit calendars created by a user. Other announced group features were the ability to automatically check other iCal calendars to find a time when all participants were free, as well as create event inboxes where relevant documents could be shared .

Now that Leopard is out on the road, we know more about how these features work. Let’s say you are planning a meeting. After completing the list of participants, you can use the key combination Command + Mobile Shift + A to access the Availability window, where you can see which of your guests are free. This window also has a button that allows you to obtain the next available time. Click that button and iCal will find the next time frame that is suitable for all members of the list.

The only downside: for this feature to work you will need the appropriate server software to be running on your local network; and “suitable” means “compatible with the CalDAV calendar standard.” Therefore, it is not a surprise that the new version of OS X Server (also known as Leopard Server) includes such software. There are other CalDAV servers in addition to the one included in Leopard Server. However, since Microsoft has recently joined the CalDAV consortium, Exchange is not yet one of these supported applications.

Another of the expected changes in iCal was the redesign of the interface. The final version is much more consistent with the rest of Mac OS X 10.5, where the polished metal gives way to a solid gray color. The frames that separated the calendar list from the main area have also disappeared; and the search field has been moved from the central position in the lower strip of the window to the left upper right, being the position in which we are used to finding this type of field in other applications.

The changes are not only cosmetic: the iCal sidebar, for example, incorporates new subsections for calendars we have subscribed to and also for group calendars, making it appear more organized.

Beyond the style used in the Leopard interface, the latest version of iCal adds other features such as the ability to add links to an event invitation.

The details

Apple publicly commented on the interface redesign at the Worldwide Developers Conference in June 2007. What it did not make public were the changes to the iCal editing interface.

In previous versions of iCal, when you wanted to make changes to the details of a note, you had to select the entry causing the edit window to appear on the side of the iCal window. In the new version of iCal, an inspector will open right next to the entry when we double click on the point. To edit the details of the annotation, you have to click the Edit button of that inspector. (You can also select the point and use the shortcut Command + E). Overall, the new editing interface is in line with iCal’s new cleaner look.

Other nice improvements: You can set a default alarm for all new notes, and to-do items created in Mail will instantly appear in iCal 3.0, and vice versa. You can also link files to notes. For example, when you invite attendees via email, those files will be sent as links. (We still have to do tests with other mail clients besides Mail.)

Conclusions

While the new workgroup tools are welcome, they will only work if there is a CalDAV server somewhere on the local network. If you are already using OS X Server, then an upgrade to the Leopard version will allow you and your colleagues to use these workgroup tools; But if you don’t have access to the latest OS X Server (or other CalDAV compliant program), then iCal 3.0 is reduced to a redesigned user interface with other minor changes.

Changes to the user interface will be welcomed by iCal users, even if they are not significant enough to be decisive for the change. If you’re in an office where you can convince IT folks to switch to OS X Server or some other CalDAV-compatible platform, then workgroup tools will be great for any small business workgroup.