Google Calendar colors a CNET reporter's day

CNET News.com's Elinor Mills says the search giant's online calendar best suits her needs. And it has nice colors, too.

My friends tease me every time I pull out my black, leather-bound date book to jot down an appointment. True, it weighs just over a pound and crowds my purse, but it also contains a notepad, address book, pen and a bevy of business cards.

Still, I've been waiting for something to nudge my scheduling into the digital era. So when Google Calendar was released last month, I saw my opportunity. I also decided to try the Web-based calendars from Yahoo and Microsoft to see how they compare.

Let me tell you, even for a calendar junkie like me, it hasn't been easy juggling three online calendars and my old-fashioned, paper date book for the past two weeks. That said, my attempt at calendar multitasking left me with a few clear thoughts, starting with the fact that marking appointments, or "events" as they're called in the online world, turned out to be fairly straightforward on all three programs.

But Google, in my very unscientific test drive, won out. (For a more technical look at the Google and Yahoo calendars, by CNET Reviews, click here.) Google's had the best interface and the most interactive features of the three. But there's one big caveat, something that didn't bother me so much but could annoy other people, particularly on-the-go business users. While Google Calendar allows users to import from and export to Microsoft Outlook, it doesn't synchronize with Outlook or handheld devices. A Google product manager has said the company will offer that functionality in coming months.

First, some tech background: I used Firefox and sometimes Internet Explorer on a Windows-based PC and tested the calendaring feature in the Windows Live Mail beta rather than Hotmail, which it will eventually replace. On a side note, Microsoft is building a calendar feature into its pending next-generation operating system, Vista, which is due later this year.

Typically, a calendar user creates an appointment by clicking on a button to add or create a new "event" and filling in blank spaces on a new page with details such as event type, day, time and location, and then clicking Save.

Google gives you several different ways to create new events without having to go through all those steps. One way is to click on a particular day and type in some details in a pop-up window, such as "Triathlon in Napa." After that, the program automatically creates the event. Another way is to click on a "Quick Add" link, type in a few more specifics, such as "Triathlon in Napa, Sunday 8 a.m.," and it will automatically create the event for that day.

Google also lets users easily change the day of an event once it's scheduled by dragging and dropping it on to a new day. The other calendars require people to open up the event details and change the date manually, which takes more time.

Google Calendar also was the easiest on the eyes, allowing me to choose from a broad palette of colors for different calendars. For instance, events that are work-related show up in turquoise, personal items are purple, birthdays are pink and travel is yellow. My nine different calendar views each sported different colors, giving the setup an exciting look, if I do say so myself. Google also has kept the interface simple and clean, with no ads (at least for now).

By contrast, Yahoo and Microsoft offered fewer colors to choose from and they both showed ads. Yahoo's interface seemed downright cluttered with ads and a random nature shot, which I could choose from a variety of such pictures. For me, that was distracting and an unnecessary waste of space. Yahoo automatically shows me the weather outlook for the day, which was kind of helpful, if you trust those forecasts.

But Yahoo and Microsoft do have one leg up on Google. They synchronize with Outlook and mobile devices. Microsoft synchs with handhelds through Outlook, a representative said.

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