Google Calendar: Sync Outlook or Your Phone, Add Features

A few months back I told you how to add events to Google Calendar by sending text messages from your phone. Since then I've discovered more ways to get calendar and contact data into Google Calendar, Contacts, and Gmail. Read on for a whole new crop of tips.

Sync Outlook with Your Google Calendar

Most of my calendar data lives in Outlook. Not by choice, mind you, but because that's just where it has accumulated over the years.

I'd rather use Google Calendar, which is more versatile and less, well, Outlooky. Just one problem: how do I move my data from the latter to the former? And, just as important, how can I keep the two entities in sync?

Surprisingly few people know that Google offers a solution: the aptly named Google Calendar Sync. This free utility runs under Windows and automatically keeps Google Calendar and your Outlook calendar in sync.

That means you can enter an appointment in one spot and it'll auto-magically appear in the other--and vice versa. But you also have the option of sticking with a one-way sync, like copying all your Outlook appointments to GCal but not copying GCal appointments to Outlook.

Google Calendar Sync is compatible with Windows XP and Vista (though in my experience it works fine with Windows 7 as well). It requires Outlook 2003 or 2007--I'm not sure if it's compatible with Outlook 2010.

Setup is a snap:

  1. Download and run the utility.
  2. Enter your Google account info.
  3. Choose your sync option (one way or two way).
  4. Specify how often the utility should sync your calendars (the default is every two hours).

That's it! The first sync takes a couple minutes; after that, it's virtually instantaneous. Now you can use both calendars however you see fit, all the while keeping both in sync.

Sync Google Calendar With Your Smartphone

One of the things I love about Google Calendar is that it requires no desktop component. Sure, you can sync it with Outlook, but not everyone needs or wants a program like that just to manage appointments.

Indeed, more and more people prefer to keep their calendars on their mobile phones, just as they do their address books.

If you do use Outlook, you've probably already configured it to sync with your phone. If not, or if, like me, you're trying to migrate away from that unwieldy beast, look no further than Google Sync--a free service that syncs mobile phones with Google Calendar.

And not just Google Calendar, but also Google Contacts and Gmail. The service works with BlackBerry, iPhone, and Nokia S60 devices. (Why not Android? Because Google's mobile OS already syncs with the various Google services, natch. As for the Palm Pre and Pixi, they can sync with Google right out of the box.)

Google provides all the instructions you need for configuring and using Google Sync, so I won't rehash them here. My goal is simply to explain why it's a good idea.

If you're already a Google Calendar user, it should be pretty obvious: Sync brings a copy of your schedule to your phone--and keeps both versions up to date. Handy!

If you're not a Google Calendar user, Sync effectively gives you an online backup of your schedule--something that could prove invaluable if your phone gets broken, lost, stolen, etc.

Plus, there's much to be said for having a calendar that's accessible from any Web-enabled device (desktop, netbook, iPad, etc.). Same goes for your contacts.

Add a 'Next Meeting' Box to Google Calendar

Now that you know how to sync smartphones and Outlook with Google Calendar, let's talk about some other ways to make it more useful.

Like many of Google's apps and services, Calendar offers a "labs" section where you can find various tweaks and enhancements that are still in the testing stages. One of my favorites is Next Meeting, which adds a box that displays--you guessed it--your next scheduled appointment. It's a tiny change, but a very practical one.

To enable Next Meeting, sign into Google Calendar, then click the little green beaker that appears in the upper-right corner of the page. That'll take you to the Labs page. Scroll down almost all the way to the bottom, find Next Meeting, click Enable, and then click the Save button at the bottom.

That's all there is to it! Now, when you look at your calendar, you'll see the new box in the lower right corner. It shows the next scheduled entry in your calendar and a countdown timer.

Like I said, it's a tiny tweak--but definitely one worth making.

If you've got a hassle that needs solving, send it my way. I can't promise a response, but I'll definitely read every e-mail I get--and do my best to address at least some of them in the PCWorld Hassle-Free PC blog . My 411: hasslefree@pcworld.com . You can also sign up to have the Hassle-Free PC newsletter e-mailed to you each week .

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