Using Google Apps with Outlook 2007 to keep my personal and work life in sync

Last year, I wrote a very long blog post on the problems I was having with calendar synchronisation but I never reached the point where I was ready to publish it. Almost a year on, and I finally have something that’s working well for me but, as it’s such a long story, I’ve tidied up the original post and published it (for the full history) and I’ll write a new one here that describes the working scenario.

Calendar synchronisation… shouldn’t it all be a bit easier than this?

First up – to recap on the original problems:

  • Due to limitations with Microsoft Office’s Online calendar functionality. I was synchronising local calendars at home and work, using Google Calendar (GCal) as an intermediary.
  • The main problem was synchronisation between Outlook 2007 and GCal and, after trying a huge list of products, each of which nearly worked, but not quite, I got it working using CompanionLink for Google; however the various other products I’d used along the way had left me with duplicate and missing calendar entries – and a sour taste in my mouth.
  • On the Mac at home, Apple iCal was working with GCal but there were still some issues around synchronisation with a local Exchange Server via Entourage.

Back to the drawing board

After having implemented Google Apps for my home/small business IT, I decided to have another go at calendar synchronisation.

This time, to minimise the scope for synchronisation errors, rather than merging my work calendar into my home calendar, I decided to set up another Google Calendar to mirror the Exchange one I use for work. In addition, the process was simplified as Google now has a synchronisation product (Google Calendar Sync) which can handle the Exchange/Outlook-Google side of things and I am no longer using Entourage or Exchange Server at home.

The whole thing looks something like this:

Calendar syncing between home and work

As can be seen in the diagram, I actually have three calendars:

  1. My work calendar exists on a corporate Microsoft Exchange server (accessible via Outlook Web Access but primarily used with Outlook).
  2. I’ve also created a Google Calendar to hold a copy of this “work” calendar in the cloud and Google Calendar Sync does the magic to keep the two in sync.
  3. Finally, there’s my “personal” calendar, which lives at Google Apps.

Google Calendar sync is set up for a 2-way sync and, even though I can synchronise as frequently as every 10 minutes, Outlook performance suffers whilst the sync is taking place so I have it set to synchronise hourly. The main drawbacks with this approach are: the need for a client helper application; the 1:1 nature of the synchronisation (i.e. you cannot sync with multiple calendars); and the inability to set synchronisation schedules (or even to control the date range for synchronisation) – on the other hand, it’s free.

In Google Calendar, I have given my Google Apps account access to my “work” calendar, which means that I have full read-write access to it from anywhere that I use Google Apps. That access could be via a browser, of using native applications on my iPhone, MacBook, or another device (e.g. a Windows PC). Basically, my work calendar is visible everywhere.

My “personal” calendar is… personal. I can access it directly from any of the devices that I use for accessing Google Apps but I don’t want my colleagues to know that I have certain appointments and one thing I found with the Google Calendar Sync (luckily I spotted it early) was that appointments marked as private in Outlook were visible once they got to Google Calendar. I still need to think about how to pass my personal free/busy information back to Outlook/Exchange at work but, for now, my “personal” calendar exists in Google Apps and is visible in my “work” Google Calendar account but I don’t sync it back to Outlook. Basically, if I look at Outlook, I see work appointments but if I open a browser and got to the Google Calendar, I can see work and personal information.

What does it all look like?

In this screen-shot of Outlook 2007 connected to my corporate Exchange Server, my “work” calendar is visible but there are no appointments from my “personal” calendar:

Outlook Calendar

Viewing either of the Google calendars in a browser (in this case it’s Safari on a Mac) shows my “work” and “personal” calendars using different colours:

Multiple calendars viewed in Google Calendar

I can also subscribe to these calendars using the iCalendar protocol from Apple iCal, Windows Calendar (or another desktop client):

Multiple calendars in Apple iCal
Multiple calendars in Windows Calendar

On the iPhone, I can use either the built in calendar application or a browser application (I prefer the browser version as the iPhone Calendar assigns different colours to the various calendars):

Multiple calendars in the iPhone Calendar applicationMultiple calendars viewed in Google Calendar on an iPhone

You may notice that I also subscribe to a public calendar which provides the details of UK public holidays. Doing this means that the public holidays show up in my calendar using a different colour to the other calendars but there are other calendars that I could subscribe to – for instance sports calendars (e.g. the Northampton Saints fixture list) – or anything that uses the iCalendar format described in RFC 2445.

Summary and other points of note

In all, this solution seems to be working remarkably well for me and provides a suitable level of abstraction between work and personal calendar details whilst still letting me (and my family – or anyone else that I share my calendars with) see everything that I’m up to. I still need to work on getting personal free/busy details to populate my “work” calendar but, other than that, I’m pretty happy with the solution – and all of the software involved is free (apart from Outlook and Exchange Server – for which the licenses are provided by my employer).

I’m using Google’s technology but I could also have used Microsoft products, as Sarah Perez describes with Windows Live Calendar and the Outlook Connector. Either should work – it’s just a matter of preference – and as I was already using Google Apps for one part of the solution, adding Windows Live Calendar into the mix seemed to over-complicate things slightly for me.

Finally, this information may be useful when diagnosing problems:

22 thoughts on “Using Google Apps with Outlook 2007 to keep my personal and work life in sync


  1. That is exactly what I am doing too :). As for duplicates, I have found a solution from topalt.com it is called Deduper, it scans and removes all duplicates left in the process.


  2. Hi mark, good article. I’m doing much the same now with Google Calendar Synch from work ( Fujitsu NZ), but keep my personal appointments clear by parking them as private. That way the corporate GAL aren’t able to snoop my own stuff, and it still blocks out time in my daily schedule that others cannot book a meeting with me for ( currently Midwife appointments) I also use Plaxo for calendar, notes and contact synchs across the work outlook and my home office, Media PC and laptop which works very well. Have you investigated Plaxo 3 beta ? which also supports Google cal synch.


  3. Thanks for the comments guys.

    @Ian – I looked at Calgoo when I first tried this last year but I was trying to avoid having another service in the mix (in a quest to keep things simple).

    @Scott – I found that a medical apoointment I had in my calendar (where I’d put full details in the corporate calendar but marked it as private) was then visible in Google… sounds like you are trying to do the opposite (bring private appointments from Google into Exchange/Outlook) but it’s worth watching out for!


  4. Hi Mark,
    Great article. I’ve a question about the two screenshots from your iPhone. Is the one on the left the built-in iPhone calendar? If so, how do you keep it in sync with your Google calendar?
    Thanks,
    Neil


  5. @Neil – glad you found it useful. To answer your question, yes, the iPhone screenshot on the left is the built-in calendar (although I prefer the browser-based one on the right. Because I use Apple iCal on my Mac, iTunes can see the calendars that I subscribe to there and sync them to the iPhone. Not sure how it would cope on a Windows PC.

    I guess the title of the post is a little misleading – but what I meant was that my work like lives in Outlook 2007 and my personal life is in Google Apps, accessed from a variety of clients (and this post is about how I keep them in sync).


  6. Hi Mark,

    Nice article. I immediately changed my envrionment accordingly :-).

    In addition I am also able to view my private mail from within Outlook 2007.

    Under “Tools”->”Account Settings” in tab “Internet Calendars” you can add internet calendars by their ICAL web address. After you’ve done this you can view your private calendar in a side-by-side view or a merged view in Outlook. The calendar is not imported into your exchange server mail, it is only shown in the same view.
    You can find the ICAL address of your google calendar under “Settings”->”Calendars” and then clicking on your own calendar.


  7. Sadly Jack, that option didn’t seem to work for me as Outlook seemed incapable of reading my private URL (even if I changed the URL from https:// to webcal://) and the public URL is restricted to certain users (not open access to all)… oh well… guess I’ll find a way around sooner or later.


  8. Hi guys,

    Jack is right; it’s possible to view your Google calendar in Outlook 2007 without any tools.

    Mark, what you may have done is use the wrong URI; you need to use the .ics value for the specific GCal you’re subscribing to.

    [in GCal]: Calendar Settings > Private Address > ICAL

    Google lets you choose between “Calendar Address” and “Private Address”, which basically means “public or full view”.


  9. Dave – thanks for this – I was pretty sure that’s what I had tried but I went back and checked.

    Using the .ics value for the calendar’s private address results in an Outlook error which says:

    Cannot verify or add the Internet Calendar in Outlook. Verify the link is a valid calendar link:

    https://www.google.com/calendar/ical/user@domain.tld/private-longstringofhex/basic.ics


  10. Since the above writing, I determined that Outlook Internet Calendar subscriptions only work when using

    1) Google “regular”: using Private URL
    (ie, what I was successful with)

    2) Google Apps For Your Domain (ie, business account):

    * when calendar is fully shared Public
    (which defeats the purpose of having a private business account), or
    * when not in SSL format; ie, don’t use https URL; use http like so

    https://www.google.com/calendar/ical/user@domain.tld/private-longstringofhex/basic.ics

    becomes

    http://www.google.com/calendar/ical/user@domain.tld/private-longstringofhex/basic.ics

    I’ve changed https to http for my Private .ics URLs and now I’m able to get Outlook to subscribe to them!


  11. Dave – fantastic – I was e sure I tried this unsuccessfully before but it’s working now (HTTP access to private URL on my Google Apps Calendar). Thanks for working this out – and for sharing.


  12. Mark you rock!!! This is exactly the solution I was looking for! Thanks a lot. Let me just add that the scheme also works with two Google Calendars and two Outlooks — one at work, one at home. All you have to do is open another Gmail account, and share your calendar with your usual Gmail account; then keep the work Outlook 2-ways sync’ed with the “work” Gmail, and the personal Outlook sync’ed with both.


  13. @Paolo – glad it helped you out! For me the missing piece was subscribing to my Google Calendar in Outlook – which Jack van Leeuwen ad Dave Smith helped out with in their comments above – that really completed the picture.


  14. each time I install Google calendar sync it enlarges my screen. The font is 80+ and only 5 to6 words can be seen. I’ve tried installing it several times yet the same thing happens. Is there a simple solution? Please help.


  15. Sorry Dawn, I’ve not seen that issue before. I’d suggest trying to download the app from Google again, in case there is a problem with your download. It might also be worth checking that your display drivers are up to date.


  16. I wonder why nobody is using the build in IE browser in Outlook 2007
    We have totally dropped recommending using the iCal Internet Calendar option with Outlook 2007 as it is less than useless – Using the built in IE Browser in Outlook 2007 gives the client all the shared Google Calendars with all the information they need and they can still use the Outlook Calendar and contacts as it is Google Synced.
    And no messing around with Web Cal URLs that lots of times do not work as planned.

    What is your opinion of this non standard solution Mark.


  17. @Tom – I’ve never liked the idea of using Outlook as a browser – there’s no real justification for that view, it’s just my personal preference.

    Another reason for using calendars that are synced to Outlook PSTs/OSTs is offline access – much of my work is mobile, and a browser-based solution is less than ideal.

    Finally, the user interface – there are times when I love the GMail/GCal UI and times when I find it really frustrating. With this approach I just use Outlook’s Calendar UI (or I can use GCal if I’m away from that PC).


  18. @mark

    Yes I agree that using the built in browser in Outlook is not the best option but when a client is demanding to work with Google and still use Outlook we believe its the only viable solution available at the moment. Just using it for Google Calendars is we believe a good way to get access to Google Calendars inside Outlook. Remember we are talking about clients who have dropped MS Exchange. But will not drop Outlook. As soon as there is a Google Apps alternative to Outlook we can recommend, we will do it. Until then we are stuck with Clients insisting on using a product [Outlook] that is tailor made for MS Exchange, with Google Apps – and all the Sync programs needed to keep this up to date – and all the problems Syncing can bring. It was the problems we had with using iCal that pushed us in the direction of using the Outlook Browser for the G calendars.


  19. Mark-i could really use some help–i ordered google apps for my wife and me under our domain. Basically we both run outlook2007 on both of our laptops (PC’s) when i log into google apps i see her calendar and I see mine and they are combined nicely. however i cannot get them both together in outllok when i run googlesync. I have the calendar sync downloaded and installed, I’ve tried the Ical url in outlook Internet Calendars and that doesnt show anything. All i want is our combined calendars that show up online to show together in outlook

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