Inadvertent spamming and calendar woes

At the University of Bath, where UKOLN is based, we use an enterprise calendar solution from Oracle. It’s OK, no worse than some others I’ve used, but not great. It does have a client for Mac OSX in its favour…. but I don’t really want to use a dedicated client when I have systems and workflows with dependencies on the Mac’s built in calendar application, iCal. iCal is not particularly great either, but it is integrated into Mac OSX and there are advantages to be had from this. I have a few colleagues who would like to be able to use MS Outlook for similar reasons.

Primarily, I want to be able to keep the calendars on my iPhone and my MacBook in sync. Ideally, I want all of this to be synchronised with the ‘work’ calendar on the Oracle system. Prior to owning the iPhone, I was a long-time Palm user and had configured my Palm to synchronise with the Oracle system via SyncML using the excellent tools from Synthesis. The Palm became the conduit between my MacBook and the Oracle system which while not ideal, was a manageable solution. But I bought the iPhone partly to replace the Palm as a PDA, and having to carry the Palm around to act as a conduit between various calendar systems is not ideal.

The most likely medium-term solution to this will be a promised iPhone SyncML client from Synthesis, which might be available sometime this year once Apple sort out their ‘official’ application supply chain arrangements.

In the meantime, today I decided to see how far I could get using the iCalendar file format for calendar data exchange. The Oracle server does not expose iCalendar files except through SyncML, but it does allow them to be exported and imported via the client. I wondered if the ‘clunky’ process of exporting the work calendar every morning and importing this file into iCal might still be less painful than using a Palm as a syncing device. So I imported the iCalendar file into a new calendar in the iCal application, and experimented with a few things.

When I had finished, I decided to delete local copy of the entire calendar, and it was here that I encountered the dialogue box telling me that doing so would send a notification that this ‘event’ had been deleted. There were two buttons, ‘Cancel’ and ‘Delete and Notify’. I wanted to ‘delete’ but I didn’t want to notify anyone…. I ‘cancelled’. Trying to delete a single ‘event’ in the calendar gave the same message: I clicked ‘Delete and Notify’ to see what would happen. A ‘new email’ window popped up, with my email address pre-filled, and the body of the message explaining that this event had been cancelled.

Now I have real trust in Mac OSX. It’s not always perfect, but it’s rarely bizarre and annoying like some other popular operating system user interfaces I could mention. So I went ahead and deleted the entire local copy of the calendar, pressing the ‘Delete and Notify’ button….. By the time I had reacted sufficiently to get the network cable unplugged (I wasted precious seconds trying to cancel the process and then disabling the WIFI device before remembering I was connected with an ethernet cable) about 70 email messages had been sent to various colleagues. By the time I regained control of my laptop, around 400 messages had been queued up to be sent….

After a little investigation, it transpires that the previous version (Tiger) of Mac OSX’s iCal had three buttons for this dialogue, the other button allowing you to delete without notifying. So this is just a strange oversight perhaps. But it is easy to find forum threads where people have complained about this. It’s enough of a problem that John Maisey has released iCal Reply Checker - a utility which simply addresses this problem. It works fine - although it is a little disconcerting that the buttons haven’t changed their labels, only their effect.

Come on Apple - sort it out!



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