Toybox: Free Google Calendar hard to beat

Google Calendar is a good choice - provided that you don't mind being tied to a web browser

In the increasingly connected world we live in, it makes sense for many people to manage their calendars online, so they can access them wherever they are and whenever they want — provided, of course, they have an internet connection. For people already using Google services such as Gmail, having Google Calendar manage your schedule is a logical choice, since it uses the same login information. For users who don't already have a Gmail account, it's a good choice as well — provided that you don't mind being tied to a web browser.

Getting started with Google Calendar is simple. You'll need to create a Google account if you don't already have one, and then navigate your browser to www.google.com/calendar. Once you've logged in, you'll be presented with a typical view of your week. Google Calendar features weekly, monthly, and daily views, as well as a customisable view that lets you choose from the next two to seven days or the next two to four weeks. There's also an Agenda view that gives you a list of all upcoming events, delineated by day, just like your pen-and-paper daybook.

If you want to keep track of both work and play, you can create multiple calendars, assigning each a name and a colour to distinguish it. You can also subscribe to a variety of public calendars for events such as holidays, movie releases, and sports. Unlike Google's Gmail service, Google Calendar is totally ad-free.

Google's made adding an event a breeze. Clicking the Create Event button will give you a full-fledged pane with fields for what, where, when, description, reminders, and more. You can also hit the Quick Add link or just click on the day or time when you want to schedule an event, and a pop-up bubble will appear; type your event details into that bubble in plain English: "7pm dinner with John at Christopher's," for example-and Google Calendar will automatically parse the details to figure out what you mean, assigning the correct data to the date, time, and location fields. You can also invite others to an event by entering their email addresses in the Guests section of the full event creation screen.

As in most calendar programs, you can set Google Calendar to remind you of an upcoming event, either with a pop-up message, email, or — once you've set it up — text messages to your mobile phone. You can set default notifications on a global or calendar-by-calendar basis. While the settings for notifications allow you a wide variety of time options, there are limits. For example, Google's pop-up reminders live in your browser, so they won't show up if you don't have your calendar open. And if you want to get a reminder to something other than your Gmail account, you'll need to configure Gmail to forward those messages.

The strengths of Google Calendar come in its connectivity. It's easy to share your calendars with other Google Calendar users, or even embed a Google Calendar widget on your web page. You can set the permissions others have concerning those calendars-whether they can see your events, edit them, or just tell whether you're free or busy. But people you share calendars with must have Google accounts of their own.

Of course, the biggest strength of Google Calendar — its online existence — is also a potential weakness. You won't be able to view your calendar when you're not online, not yet anyway.

With an easy-to-use, intuitive interface, and just enough sophistication to keep power users satisfied, Google Calendar is hard to beat. and it's free.

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