Collaborating with Calendars

Outlook contains a variety of personal information manager (PIM) features, including Contacts, Tasks, Journal, and Calendar. Using Outlook's Calendar to track your appointments, meetings, events, and special occasions is a great way to increase your productivity. You can schedule meetings with other individuals as well as create reminders for upcoming appointments, meetings, or special events such as birthdays or anniversaries. Whenever I add someone's birthday to my calendar, I set a reminder 10 days earlier so that I have time to buy and send that person a card.

Although the Calendar is a powerful feature right out of the box, it also has some collaborative features you can use after a few simple enhancements. If you work in a typical office environment, you probably schedule meetings with certain groups of people on a regular basis. You can use Outlook 2002's Group Schedule tool to add individuals to a specific group, called a group schedule. Then, when you want to schedule a meeting with the group, you can see each person's free/busy information with just a couple of clicks. To set up a group schedule, navigate to your Calendar folder and select View Group Schedules from the Actions menu. Click New to create a new group schedule, name your group schedule, and click OK. You can then add individuals within your Exchange Server organization to the group schedule. After you've created a group schedule, you can click Make Meeting in the View Group Schedules dialog box to quickly set up a meeting with all the group schedule members. You can use the same dialog box to send a message to everyone in the group schedule. You can create as many group schedules as you need.

If you want to create a master calendar for all the employees in your organization, consider using a public folder on your Exchange server. You can grant Author permissions to everyone in your organization to let them create new appointments and meetings as well as edit and delete their own appointments and meetings. Author permissions prevent users from editing or deleting appointments and meetings created by others. Using a public calendar folder on the Exchange server lets everyone see major company events or determine the time and location of departmental meetings.

If you need to collaborate and don't have access to an Exchange server, you can use the Microsoft Office Internet Free/Busy Service with Outlook 2002 to share your calendar with others. This service isn't perfectly intuitive to use or even always 100 percent reliable, but it might be better than nothing. To configure the Free/Busy Service, select Options from the Outlook Calendar Tools menu. Click Calendar Options, Free/Busy Options. To use the Free/Busy Service, you must have a Microsoft Passport ID and password. Select "Publish and search using Microsoft Office Internet Free/Busy Service," then click Manage to configure your Free/Busy options. These steps open your browser to the Internet Free/Busy Service home page and let you sign in with your current Passport account or create a new one. After you've signed in, you can enable Outlook to work with the Free/Busy Service at the displayed Web page. After you do so, an ActiveX control will send information between Outlook and the Free/Busy Service. You can use the Free/Busy Service's Web site to grant permission to other users to see your free/busy information. Although the Free/Busy Service isn't quite as easy to use for collaboration as an Exchange server, it can provide some Exchange-like sharing abilities for standalone users.

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