Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Synching iCloud with Outlook: my solution

Did you upgrade your iPhone/iPad to iOS5? And your Mac to Lion 10.7.2? Are you using iCloud services? Do you use Windows OS and Microsoft Outlook at work? If all your answers are YES, then you might be interested to read further and discover iCal4OL software.




I had been a user of Google Calendar since it came to live some years ago. However, lately I had been feeling some pains with it. First of all their CalDav implementation. As you might know CalDav is the protocol used to access your Google Calendar from your iPhone/iPad, iCal on your Mac, or Thunderbird Calendar on any platform. You might be using ActiveSync protocol instead on your iPhone/iPad. But if you are using CalDav, Google Calendar will only show the main calendar, so if you have several calendars like I do, you will need to set up them one by one through a not so user friendly way. This is due to the Google Calendar CalDav protocol implementation. Also, Google Tasks do not support CalDav, so they cannot be used with the new iOS5 Reminders app nor synched with iCal. That is why I decided to move to the brand new iCloud service.

However, one thing didn’t work right when I moved. I had used in the pass Google Sync tool to sync my main Outlook Calendar to Google Calendar, and from there to a my devices. However, when I installed iCloud sync software from Apple and enabled calendar synchronization something went wrong. It might be my company’s proxy or firewall, but Outlook got stuck and didn’t respond. Also, iCloud would create a special replica of all my calendars from the cloud when I just wanted to sync my main Outlook calendar and nothing else.

What to do? I then remember a piece of software called iCal4OL. I had been using it before trying to sync Yahoo! Calendar and Tasks with Outlook without much success. But I decided to give it a new chance now with iCloud. To my surprise, the whole process worked quite smoothly and synchronization is now working the way I want. I have registered the software and paid the 20€ after the trial period (15 days expired). But I think the developer deserves to be paid for this great tool.


How did I set up the synchronization with Outlook? Here it is my experience.

I am running at work Windows 7 and Outlook 2007. I cannot promise that everything will work the same in any other platform. However, iCal4OL web page and forums have plenty of information and the developer is really active updating them.

Let’s go through the set up process here.

Download iCal4OL from the developer web page here. Also download iCloud Collection Finder free utility here to find out your iCloud calendar addresses. iCal4OL developer has been very kind to develop a free software that by typing your iCloud username and password will show the address of each of the calendars you have created on iCloud service, so you can use these addresses in iCal4OL and also in any other CalDav software (Thunderbird Calendar, etc.).

First of all, run the iCloud Collection Finder tool. Type in your iCloud username and password and select the address of the calendar you want to be synched with your Outlook calendar. Save this address on your clipboard or in a text file for later use.




Now it is time to run iCal4OL for the first time. It will carry you through a setup wizard to configure all the settings. You might be overwhelmed by the number of settings the software has, but in order to configure it for iCloud you do not need much to be done. iCal4OL can also be used to sync Google Calendar, Yahoo! Calendar or any other CalDav compatible service, so your investment is safe.

In tab Who, fill in your name, email address (iCloud username) and your timezone. Press Save and then Next.


Now you are on the What tab. Select what you would like to do. In my case I select in the section 1. 2-way synchronization with a  Web Solution (CalDAV/GroupDAV). That is the option to choose for iCloud. For section 2. I selected Nothing else. Press Save and then Next.


Let’s check now the next tab, How. In the URL field, paste the previously obtained calendar URL address. Then enter iCloud username and password and press Test button. You will see the button text change to OK!! if everything went fine. I select also the Outlook Calendar to sync. In my case it was my default Outlook Calendar. For the time period, I selected from -31 days (Incremental) option with no end date. I also selected Enhaced Options – Activate tabs “x.1 More” in order to remove meeting attendees from the synching (more about that coming later). Press Save and the Next.


Now you should be in the 1.1 More tab. At this step I would highly recommend you to select the option Suppress attendees (do not import) not to sync the contacts on your outlook meetings, otherwise iCloud will start to send emails to all meeting attendees whenever there is some change and I guess you do not want your work colleagues to receive iCloud emails from your personal email account. I have had this problem at the beginning until I contacted the developer and he corrected this issue. Fortunately the option is now there and you can rest assured that this will not happen. Press Save and Next.


In tab 2.1 More I selected also Suppress attendees (do not export/upload Contacts/Participants/Google Guests) for the same reason as below. I am not sure if it is needed to be done in both tabs but it is better to be safe than sorry. Save and Next.


And finally we get to the Run tab. In my case I selected to sync every 30 min. You can configure this as you wish. When you press the sync interval option, iCal4OL will minimize in the system tray and it will be synchronizing automatically every 30 min.


After this I also copied the shortcut from the Windows Start Programs named iCao4OL TRAY every 30 min in the Startup folder, so the software will be started automatically when I start Windows. You can however run it manually if you wish.

iCal4OL has plenty of other options in the Options, Maintenance, Sync Fields, Google, Contacts, Defects and Configuration tabs that you might want to investigate. I didn't need to modify anything else, but you can always have a look. Something nice in the software is that if you keep the cursor on top of any option, a bubble with more information will pop up. There is also extensive documentation available at developer’s website and also on the forums.

Once iCal4OL is up and running, you can always check its status by clicking on the system tray icon. It will provide you with info about the remaining time until the next sync, sync now, show logs or go to the iCal4OL webpage. Also, just by placing the curson on the icon, you can also get info about time remaining till next sync.




As a summary I have to say that I am really satisfied with this solution now. Here it is what I like and dislike:

Like
  • Working fine at all times. With Google Sync tool I had sometimes some events deleted from my calendar without any apparent reason. No problems with iCal4OL and iCloud
  • Does not interfere in Outlook operations (no new buttons or modules in Outlook)

Dislike:
  • The first time I run it I had issues as explained with meeting attendees and it was quite annoying and embarrassing having my colleagues getting iCloud emails from my private account
  • Price (maybe a little bit high, but worth the money)


I would recommend you to give a it a try. You do not have anything to loose. You have 15 days to test and decided. Hopefully this is the right solution for you.

Enjoy!

P.S. Here are some comments from the developer regarding my experience. Please read as it might help you also with your setup process:

Here some comments:
- I believe, there is a way to sync Google SubCalendars. For the "Embedded Google Sync" in e.g. iOS, there is a browser interface from Google to activate the SubCalendars. CalDAV Sync is also possible (knowing the correct URL).
- By using the iCal4OL Assistant [Other] on tab "Who", iCal4OL will get auto-configured for the iCloud. Usehttps://caldav.icloud.com as URL.No manual need for configuration, but possible.
- Suppress Attendees: Do it only for Export (and not Import - really not necessary) on tab "2.1 More". Newer version will not trigger the sending of invitations anymore (for newly uploaded invitations). But I understand, that you write "better safe than sorry".

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4 comments:

  1. Many thanks for this nicely written review :-)

    Here some comments:

    - I believe, there is a way to sync Google SubCalendars. For the "Embedded Google Sync" in e.g. iOS, there is a browser interface from Google to activate the SubCalendars. CalDAV Sync is also possible (knowing the correct URL).

    - By using the iCal4OL Assistant [Other] on tab "Who", iCal4OL will get auto-configured for the iCloud. Use https://caldav.icloud.com as URL.
    No manual need for configuration, but possible.

    - Suppress Attendees: Do it only for Export (and not Import - really not necessary) on tab "2.1 More".
    Newer version will not trigger the sending of invitations anymore (for newly uploaded invitations).
    But I understand, that you write "better safe than sorry".

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks for your post! I was able to successfully set this up and sync multiple task folders from Outlook to iCloud (with some help from the forums.)

    Worth every $$ IMHO.

    My system now...

    Outlook Tasks <-iCal4OL->iCloud/Reminders App/Siri<->2Do App for iPhone

    ReplyDelete
  3. i have been using icloud since 8 month but i don't know Synching iCloud with Outlook thanks for your guide ...

    ReplyDelete