Windows Live Calendar is awesome. It pulls in all the best features of calendar-management software, including personal appointments, events (like parties and group activities), and tasks, and presents them in a web-based interface. Think of it as WL Hotmail for your personal calendar; in fact, it sort of grew out of an extension of Hotmail back in the MSN days.
The WL Calendar is pretty easy to use. You can either get there by clicking the Calendar link in your navigation bar on the left side of the WL Hotmail page, by clicking More > Calendar on your WL banner (which appears across the top of any wave 3 page), or by navigating to http://calendar.live.com.
The sexy, new interface
With this latest update, the top banner ad has been removed (I hope Hotmail is next), and a few neat features have been added. Read on.
If you’ve ever used an electronic calendar before, then you’ll have no trouble navigating the WL Calendar interface. On the left side, there’s a date navigator and a list of calendars that you can use to filter which activities you see (more on this in a minute). Across the top of the calendar, there are tabs to access day, week, month, and agenda (list of appointments) views, as well as a to-do list. Each view has its own list of actions above the tabs (very similar to Hotmail’s commands for working with e-mail messages).
Like all of the newer WL tools, the WL Calendar uses AJAX technology to create a richer user experience. Navigating between views is lightning quick. For instance:
Click a date in the navigator, and you jump to the selected date in day view.
Drag across a series of dates (up to 1 week), and the selected dates are loaded in the week view.
Drag across a series of weeks (up to 1 month), and the selected dates are loaded in the month view.
All this jumping around, and you never leave the original page. The only thing lacking here is effective keyboard navigation, but that’s more of a limitation of the browser, and most people can live with that.
New appointments, for the most part, can be added via nifty little pop-up windows that appear when you click an + Add link on the date, so you don’t have to spend a lot of time moving from one page to another (however, appointments with additional details do require you to move around a bit). All of the basics are there, including what, where, which calendar, start/end date/time, recurrence, reminders, description, and availability (tentative, free, busy, away). With the latest release, there’s a neat new feature called "charms," which allows you to add your own flair (cute li’l emotes) to specific appointments to help them stand out.
Charms are like emotes for your calendar activities
Probably the coolest feature (thus far) of WL Calendar is the ability to see all of your WL Calendars, and others to which you have subscribed, in one consolidated view. Not only do you have a personal calendar, but each WL Group and Event you join has its own calendar, too. Each calendar can be assigned a unique color to help its activities stand out. You can filter the calendars you see (using the aforementioned checklist), so they sort of behave like categories in other calendar-management programs.
If you choose, you’re calendar can also be shared with anyone you like, and you can provide just the right level of permissions, based upon your needs. For instance, you might allow your colleagues and family members to read your personal calendar, but give your spouse permissions to add and manage appointments on it. That’s a really slick feature, and it opens up a world of new collaborative possibilities.
For WL Mail users, most of the calendar features can be managed there, too. The only exception (much to my chagrin) is the to-do list feature, which is conspicuously absent from WL Mail. Really, WL Mail team? You rebuilt the entire calendar functionality in a desktop app, and you left out the to-do list feature? Really? REALLY?
If you already use a newer version of Microsoft Office Outlook, then you can also benefit from the Microsoft Office Outlook Connector. You can easily pull in your Hotmail mailbox, WL people (aka Hotmail contacts), and WL calendar(s), and manage them using the rich Outlook interface.
A top priority for future releases would have to be integration with Windows Mobile users. Surely, Microsoft’s flagship Smartphone platform and its hot up-and-coming calendar tool should be able to seamlessly sync. I want to see my WL calendar appointments and to-dos right there on my home screen, alongside my contacts and Hotmail mailbox, all powered by Windows Live.
Another feature request would be full-on meeting scheduling tools, a la Outlook, and preferably something that works across platform, so I can ditch my work calendar and truly start using WL Calendar for everything instead.