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7/96 Features: Untangle Your Time

You don't need to carry a Filofax for a lifeline to
your calendar data-all you need is a Web browser.

By Mark A. Kellner

In one of Woody Allen's early comedies, a character calls his answering service to check in: "From 2 to 3, I'll be at 555-6578. From 3 to 3:15, I'm in my car. From 3:15 to 3:45, I'm at 546-1050, then I'll be at 687-2134. Got it?"

In the early 1970s, few could imagine such a need to stay in touch. Now, 25 years later, satire has become reality.

Here and Now

But scheduling will be easier for you than it was for Woody's character. World Wide Web scheduling software will allow you to maintain connectivity from just about anywhere on the planet-as long as you have an Internet connection and the right software at your company's Web site. Products in this category will be widely available later this year.

Universal access is the biggest advantage of Web-based calendaring. Wherever you are, if you can get to your Web server, up-to-date schedules will be at your fingertips.

Most of the programs we'll discuss can share data over the Web. GoldMine, Lotus Notes, Internet Sidekick and GroupWise WebAccess can all exchange data between a Web site and the user. With Notes, Internet Sidekick and GroupWise, you can update and change scheduling information. For the others, for now, synchronizing data via the Web may be the next best thing to being there.

Looking ahead, it's easy to see that soon anyone will be able to use the group scheduling that has become popular within corporations. Publishing schedules on the Web gives colleagues and customers access to your busy plans, and allows co-workers to update and change schedules. Expand this outside the corporate world, and soon you'll be punching up your dentist's schedule to make an appointment, or making reservations at your favorite restaurant via the Web.

From Filofax to WWW

Keeping a schedule on the Web requires HTML publishing of a specialized nature-an interface that will allow your browser to interact with MAPI-compliant programs like Microsoft Schedule+, along with other scheduling applications. You'll also need Web browsing capability at the client end, preferably with support for forms and other means of updating schedules. If you want to make scheduling information available only to a select few, you will also need a firewall to keep out prying eyes.

Novell's GroupWise scheduling system contains a Web-aware component called WebAccess. With a browser and an Internet connection, you can reach back to the office and grab data in a flash, using GroupWise as if you were on a LAN back at home base. Calendaring and scheduling are built right into the mail system of GroupWise products. Novell also plans to make GroupWise compatible with various scheduling applications.

An alternative to Web-based group scheduling involves synchronizing your data over the Web. That's the strategy employed by GoldMine, which doesn't store your scheduling information on the Web, but uses it as a synchronizing checkpoint.

Remote users can dial into a computer hosting GoldMine and synchronize their schedules with others in a company. New features mean they can also get that same access via the Web, with e-mail scheduling added.

You can schedule activities for yourself or you can bring up an additional screen to schedule events for other users. Tell GoldMine you want to set up a meeting with others, and it will find available time based on your parameters, then schedule the meeting.

Lotus Development Corp.'s approach to group scheduling over the Net is to present such information as part of Lotus Notes, which is widely touted as being Web-aware. Lotus' goal is to make a Web connection to a Notes installation equal to that of a dial-up or LAN-based connection. With this sort of connectivity, you can perform the same tasks via the Web that you can do in the office-including group scheduling and accessing corporate databases.

Lotus expects to ship a Windows 95 client for Notes this month and add calendaring to Notes in the second half of the year.

Campbell Services' OnTime Web Edition currently limits Web access to reading a schedule. The ability to write back information to the server will be integrated later this year. Since Campbell Services was recently acquired by major Internet player FTP Software, its Web strategies should become more aggressive.

Starfish Software plans to release two products serving the needs of group scheduling via the Web. One product, Internet Sidekick (due sometime this month), uses standard Internet protocols. If you have a laptop, phone access and an Internet e-mail account, you can schedule on the Web. To set up a meeting through Internet Sidekick, just send an e-mail message. The e-mail reply updates your schedule.

A more ambitious offering is Intera, which Starfish describes as a complete scheduling system that will work on the network computer, bring up schedules, consult and make appointments in a centralized location. The company says the product is a client/server system with a downloadable, zero-byte Java client, supporting the Network Server API, MS API, TAPI and MAPI. All you need is a standard RDMS back end such as Oracle, and you can build an entire Web-based connection for data manipulation. Intera should be available later this year.

Intera and Sidekick combine to give users powerful, intuitive scheduling capabilities both inside and outside an organization.

A Caveat or Two

When you're working from the road, the quality of your Internet service provider is critical. Choose a stable company with a good reputation. Be sure your provider has at least one access node available in every area code you'll visit.

Do your homework before you choose a particular product. The technology is still developing and the field is wide open, but the situation could change dramatically as the early entrants polish their offerings and new participants jump into the fray. Evaluate the pros and cons of each product, and you should come out with a solution that will keep you and your colleagues in sync.

Mark A. Kellner, author of God on the Internet, writes the "On Computers" column for the Washington Times. Click Here to find the e-mail IDs for our editors, who can put you in touch with this author.

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