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My Calendar is All Over the Map

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My calendar and my contact lists are important to me and I take them pretty seriously. When I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Nicaragua, I went to great lengths to safeguard the little hardback notebooks I used to keep my calendar and addresses straight: In a way, they were my lifeline to the rest of the world from a somewhat isolated place. Years later, the medium has changed, but the importance hasn't.

Until a week or so ago, my setup suited me perfectly, and it involved a Palm Tungsten E2 PDA. If that sounds old school to you, I say, it worked perfectly, was no bigger than an iphone, fit in my pocket, and allowed me to keep my appointments and addresses with me. I synced it to my Mac running 10.6 (Snow Leopard) using the infallible Missing Sync, which even populated my Palm Pilot with the photos I'd added to entries in my address book. Yes, the Palm is a bit slow by the standards of modern hardware, but it kept a battery charge for about a week. Try that, smartphone users! But it was time to move on, and my purchase of a Google Nexus 7 tablet convinced me it was time to transition to a newer device before my aging Tungsten gave up the ghost.

Not easy! The Nexus comes from the factory pre-disposed to link you into Google's relatively amazing services, from gmail to the Google calendar to Google Plus and beyond. I have an issue with this. There are a couple of companies I don't trust totally. Facebook is one, increasingly Amazon is another, and Google is definitely a third. "Do no evil" be damned, I don't think it's smart to accept free services in exchange for your privacy and the right for other companies to profile you to advertisers. And while Google has done miracles to advance the Web, I don't want to give them more information about me than I have to (for the same reason, I don't use Facebook at all and for email I use Fastmail).

But I checked out Google's calendar anyway, just in case that was going to be my solution. I found it was great in a lot of ways - all sorts of alerts, multiple calendars (once I managed to figure out how they work to categorize your data), and easy access not only through a web browser but through lots of apps available on the Android app store. But I dislike how the Google calendar tries to tie you into other Google services like Plus, and dislike the way their address book only works with gmail (which I don't use). And lastly, I definitely don't want Google to have a copy of my address book's contents! And that made my Nexus immediately not-so-useful as a PDA.

Briefly I considered throwing in the towel and just getting an iphone. Apple's ical program is what I already use on the Mac desktop, so the iphone's ical program would be immediately useful to me and would sync back to my Mac. But it annoys me that I have to choose my phone/tablet/other hardware around a decision like that. I don't want an iphone in my pocket, I really don't. Furthermore, turns out it wouldn't sync, because full syncing among your devices in the Apple world require the icloud software, available for Mac Lion and up. So not only do I need to buy an iphone but I need to upgrade my OS to something I'm not thrilled about (and which hasn't gotten great reviews from users either, in my opinion).

There was an easy answer, once I knew what the question was. The question is: isn't there a standards-compliant calendar server company that will host your calendar and addressbook and sync it to whatever device you already have? And the answer is Fruux.

Fruux solved my problem. The relevant standards are called Caldav (for calendars) and Carddav (for addressbook entries) and both Mac's ical, Android apps, and the Google calendar speak those languages. Basically, Fruux does what Google does, but isn't Google. If you're OK with that, then you're probably OK paying for the service too, because these guys are trying to making a living off of providing a real service, rather than selling your data to advertisers. For me, it's worth it. (Fruux offers free accounts, with minor limitations, if you're curious).

Once you've established an account, you can sync just about anything to it. This was the icing on the cake. I exported my existing calendars from Mac's ical and uploaded them to Fruux, making the data immediately available to not only my Android calendar, but also my Mac (connecting now to Fruux over a caldav connection), a Windows computer (running Softmaker Office/eMClient), and even my Linux computer (using either Evolution or Kontact, both of which work well). That's pretty stunning and a real upgrade from my lifestyle with a Palm Tungsten in my pocket.

Upside: My calendars and address book are now available from just about everywhere I have a working app, and good apps are available for every platform I know of.

Downside: There's no web interface yet, like Google Calendar (I'm told they're working on it currently, so stay tuned). But typically client software works better than web interfaces anyway. And I'm still experimenting with the nuances of syncing and using Caldav. Update 2014-06-01: Fixed! They now have a lovely web interface and a great Android app.

The Trade off: there's a monthly or yearly fee, depending on how you want to pay. That's the price you pay to keep in business a company that's focusing on providing great service, not providing a free service in exchange for advertising and or selling your personal data. To me, that's worth it. And Fruux offers free accounts (with some limitations) for those unwilling to pay.

A final note: my set-up now consists of: an IMAP email account at Fastmail, who does great work with my email, with Aqua-Mail on Android as a mail application. A Fruux account for my calendar and contacts, and Business Calendar on Android, which I love. I use the Google stock addressbook on the tablet, which syncs to Fruux, and both CardDav Sync and CalDav Sync (both by Marten Gadja) to provide the link between my Nexus 7 and Fruux. Spotless. Finally, I use and recommend Duck Duck Go for surfing the web, if giving Google your data isn't exactly your cup of tea.

What's cool is that I can now keep my calendars in sync no matter where I am, access them from a multitude of devices, and basically, stay organized no matter where I am. That's awesome - my calendar is all over the map.


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