Calendaring standards gain popularity

Calendaring standards gain popularity

Matt Henry, a technical architect for the advanced technology team at Kemet, a Greenville, S.C., electronic component manufacturer, recently received a meeting invitation from a vendor via e-mail. To Henry's surprise, when he accepted the meeting it was entered automatically into his online calendar, which is stored on the latest version of Lotus Notes.

"The invitation looked like it came from within Kemet," Henry says. "It was really neat and really useful."

Henry's Notes 6.0 software processed the meeting invitation even though it was created using Microsoft Outlook 2002. That's because Notes 6 and Outlook 2002 support an emerging calendaring standard called iCal, which allows the exchange of basic calendaring information across the Internet.

"With Notes 6, we have begun to see the benefit of the full integration of many of the calendaring standards that Outlook uses," Henry says. "Industry standards are starting to be adopted . . . and we're starting to see calendaring integration between e-mail systems."

For years, group calendaring was available primarily through groupware packages from Lotus, Microsoft and Novell. Employees of companies that standardized on groupware could access each other's calendars online, find free times for meeting participants, and schedule meetings and conference rooms. But these capabilities were available only between employees of the same company.

Now a growing number of messaging vendors are beefing up their calendaring capabilities with support for standards such as iCal. With iCal, users of different messaging client and server software can invite each other to meetings via e-mail, and either accept or decline those invitations.

"A lot of organizations are looking for calendaring, but they want it to perform the functionality that it can do with Exchange and Notes," says Mike Osterman, president of Osterman Research, which tracks corporate use of groupware. "[In the past]a lack of calendaring functionality held some messaging products back."

During October, three messaging vendors announced software that supports iCal:

  • Lotus improved the calendaring capabilities of Version 6.0 of Notes and Domino. The upgraded groupware packages support iCal and offer improved calendar interoperability between Notes users in different companies.
  • Mirapoint added calendaring to its messaging appliances with the release of Messaging Continuum, software that supports personal and group calendaring and resource scheduling. Messaging Continuum supports iCal and the older vCal standard.
  • Stalker Software added calendaring and scheduling to its CommuniGate Pro Messaging Server 4.0. Stalker expanded its support for Outlook's calendaring features and announced plans to comply with iCal and vCal later this year.

These messaging vendors join Ipswitch, Novell and Sun, which already support iCal and other calendaring standards in their enterprise-class messaging and calendaring software products.

Robert Mahowald, research manager for collaborative computing at IDC, says that after e-mail, the most popular feature in groupware packages is calendaring and scheduling. That's why it's a natural add-on for other messaging vendors, he says.

"For a company that needs to have an integrated collaborative environment with customer application development, e-mail, and calendaring and scheduling are the two most important applications," Mahowald says. "Companies that are used to that are not going to take it away."

Between the two key calendaring standards, Mahowald says that "iCal is more of a desktop collaboration standard while vCal is more for mobile applications."

Calendaring is one of the most popular applications at Kemet, which has 3,000 employees worldwide who use Lotus Notes, Domino and Sametime instant-messaging software. Henry estimates that half these employees regularly use the calendaring features.

"Nobody asks me if I'm free for a meeting anymore," Henry says. "They know that my calendar is available online, and they check my free and busy time through Notes. We schedule everything through Notes - conference rooms, projectors, even cars. It's all done through the calendaring features."

Kemet recently upgraded most of its servers to Domino 6, and it has about 40 end users testing Notes 6. The rest of the employees use a mix of Notes 4.5 and 5.0. Henry says Kemet was upgrading all its users to Notes 5 when the economic downturn hit the company hard 18 months ago. That upgrade was halted, but Kemet now is considering migrating its Notes 4.5 users straight to 6.0.

Among the calendaring features in Notes 6.0 that Kemet users like best are: the ability to color-code events on a calendar, coordination with to-do lists so project deadlines appear on calendars, and better integration between Notes and Sametime to allow for the scheduling of virtual meetings held via Sametime.

"Lotus has done a tremendous job of getting all the frustrating little things to work," Henry says. "For example, if you invite somebody to a meeting, that person can accept or decline the meeting by e-mail. Before, if you accepted the meeting but deleted the e-mail invite, the meeting was deleted from your calendar. Now you have a window that pops up asking if you really want to delete the meeting or just the e-mail inviting you to the meeting."

Groupware users such as those at Kemet are accustomed to a broad set of calendaring features that include not only the ability to find a convenient meeting time and to schedule a meeting and conference room, but also to delegate or reschedule a meeting. These users want to access calendaring information via the Web and synchronize calendars between desktop and handheld machines.

Messaging products supporting calendaring standards
Vendor Product Calendaring standards supported Release date


IMail Server 7.0 iCal, iMIP, iTIP June 2001
Lotus   Notes 6.0 and Domino 6.0 iCal, iMIP, iTIP October 2002
Microsoft Outlook 2002 iCal but not iMIP or iTIP May 2001
Mirapoint Mirapoint Contiuum Services vCal, iCal, iMIP, iTIP October 2002
Novell   NetMail iCal, iMIP, iTIP September 2001
Sun iPlanet   Sun One Calendar Server iCal, iMIP, iTIP December 2000

With calendaring standards, users want all these advanced features to work across diverse platforms, particularly between Outlook and other messaging software. However, iCal only supports exchanging a meeting date and time, but none of the advanced calendaring features such as looking up a co-worker's free and busy time.

"ICal provides the barest form of interoperability," says Alan Lepofsky, offerings manager in the Lotus messaging solutions group. "ICal doesn't support all the workflow applications in Domino, like counterproposing a meeting time or delegating a meeting."

Two new calendaring standards - Calendar Access Protocol (CAP) and SyncML - might provide the additional features users want. CAP is a server-side standard still under development that will complement iCal and offer such features as searching other people's free and busy time. SyncML supports calendar synchronization between desktop and wireless devices.

Sun says it will support CAP and SyncML as soon as those standards are ready.

"Enterprises would like to see calendaring standards widely deployed," says Manish Punjabi, product line manager for communications products at Sun.

"Most Fortune 500 companies do some amount of mergers and acquisitions," Punjabi says. "When they acquire a company, they can't require that company to have the same e-mail and calendaring. They want to have any client on the front end, but have standards-based servers on the back end."

"The whole world is waiting for CAP," says Lynn Madsen, product manager for Novell's NetMail, which is iCal-complaint Web-based messaging software used by Southwest Airlines and the University of Kentucky. "CAP will allow you to replace the proprietary groupware functionality that corporate customers want."

Until CAP and SyncML are widely deployed, network managers say their biggest issue in calendaring integration is to ensure the interoperability between Outlook and other messaging software. That's why many messaging vendors, including Stalker and Ipswitch, are tweaking their products in other ways to provide better integration with Outlook.

Calendaring standards explained
vCalendar — A standard that dates back to 1996, vCal is a basic electronic calendaring and scheduling exchange format. It was developed by the Versit Consortium, whose key members included Apple, AT&T, IBM and Siemens. VCal traditionally has been used in handheld devices and mobile phones.
iCalendar — ICal outlines a common format for the exchange of calendaring and scheduling information across the Internet. A product of the Internet Engineering Task Force, iCal was published as a standards track document in 1998. The IETF also published two companion protocols in 1998: iTIP, which specifies how calendaring systems use iCal objects to interoperate with other calendaring systems; and iMIP, which specifies a binding between iTIP and Internet e-mail transports. The iCal protocols offer basic calendaring interoperability such as sending, receiving and responding to meeting invites among users of different calendaring software. ICal has gained support across the messaging industry since it became available in Outlook 2002, which shipped last summer.
Calendar Access Protocol — A companion to iCal, CAP is the key missing link in calendaring interoperability across the Internet. The IETF has worked on CAP for several years, but has not yet finalized it. CAP lets a calendar user use a calendar user agent to access an iCAL-based calendar store. CAP offers advanced calendaring support, including the ability to query, create, modify and delete iCal events, and it specifies how to search for available free time. Authors of the CAP drafts include engineers from AOL/Netscape and Steltor.
SyncML — An XML protocol that was released in 2000, SyncML supports universal synchronization of data between devices, particularly wireless devices. Supporters of the SyncML Initiative are Ericsson, IBM, Lotus, Matsushita, Motorola, Nokia, OpenWave, Starfish Software and Symbian. The first compliant products began shipping in 2001.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

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