Pulling together a meeting involving a large group of people, especially across different departments and geographic locations, can be extremely tedious and frustrating. If you don't think so, then you probably have someone doing the job for you. Group-scheduling software relieves some of the tedium of corporatewide scheduling by accessing the combined calendars of all the people across an organization. A group scheduler can find a time when all meeting attendees are available, reserve a conference room and audiovisual equipment, notify all attendees of the time and place of the meeting, and update individual calendars automatically. And all this is accomplished by a few simple mouse-clicks.
Even though group schedulers look very much like personal calendar programs, shared access adds an order of complexity to the scheduling process. Group schedulers coordinate events that involve people and resources throughout the entire enterprise, so the communications requirements of group schedulers are similar to those of enterprise-wide mail systems. Group schedulers must share meeting-request messages and information about each individual's schedule without invading people's privacy.
All the group schedulers we review here let you view your schedule by the day, week, and month. You can also maintain a personal to-do list, as well as send and receive messages. Most important, these packages let you negotiate and coordinate meetings with your coworkers and clients. In addition to tracking meeting attendees, these group schedulers reserve and track resources such as a meeting room and an overhead projector.
We looked only at group schedulers that had Macintosh and Windows clients available at the time of our evaluation. Some products, including PowerCore International's popular Network Scheduler, were preparing Macintosh clients but were unable to ship us software in time for this review. We evaluated each of these packages for cross-platform and enterprise-wide support, ease of installation and use, feature set, and management functions.
The group schedulers share some key features (see the text box "What to Look For in an Enterprise-Wide Group Scheduler" and the features table on page 220), but these features are enabled by different mechanisms. There are two basic group-scheduler architectures. One type keeps all calendar information on the network server. Local systems access the calendar on the network, make additions and changes, and then save the updated calendar back out to the server. With a true client/server architecture, such as Calendar Manager's, the server coordinates scheduling queries to the shared database and minimizes network traffic. The second type, a distributed group scheduler, uses E-mail to pass scheduling information among individual calendars. In some cases, a group scheduler will use E-mail messaging for sending meeting requests and updating user lists while also sharing user calendars across the network.
You can install Lotus Organizer either as a stand-alone personal scheduler or on a network as a group-scheduling package. In a stand-alone configuration, your schedule is maintained on your local hard drive. The group-scheduling installation puts a schedule for each registered user into a directory on a shared server. When you access your calendar across the network, you have to schlep the data across the network. Lotus Organizer is not a client/server application, but rather relies on this shared file access for communication between users.
Well, sort of. When you invite someone to a meeting, your copy of Organizer accesses the invitee's calendar to see if he or she is available. If so, it takes the meeting information and sends it via cc:Mail to the invitee (cc:Mail is required to install Organizer as a group scheduler). It's a curious blend of an E-mail-enabled application and shared file access.
Why cc:Mail? In Organizer, cc:Mail is the transport layer that takes care of notifying users across large networks (or multiple networks). While you can't precheck the schedule for people on another file server, you can include them in your meetings and get notification from them of any meetings you've been invited to.
To facilitate the propagation of multiple messages (when scheduling a large meeting), Organizer uses an agent to handle the message traffic. Perhaps the easiest way to explain the agent is through an example.
Say you want to schedule a meeting with John (who also has a cc:Mail mailbox and schedule on your server) and Marsha (whose mailbox and schedule reside on another server in another office). When you bring up your schedule and create a new meeting, both John and Marsha appear in your directory. Marsha is flagged as a remote cc:Mail user. Your schedule shows no conflict with John's, and it is unable to check Marsha's, so you schedule the meeting. Organizer marks your schedule and then generates messages for John and Marsha.
The Organizer agent runs on a dedicated PC or as a scheduled task on a cc:Mail router and picks up the messages. It then generates a local message to John and a remote message to Marsha. The cc:Mail router picks up Marsha's message and sends it out to Marsha's network.
John reads his mail and finds out that you've called a meeting. He launches the file enclosure, which brings up Organizer and asks him to accept or decline the meeting. When he accepts your meeting, a message shoots back through the agent and alerts you. Marsha's message is handled similarly, except that it has to go through agents and routers on both servers. Depending on how the agents and routers are set up, it could take minutes or hours for a message to make it all the way through the notification process.
Of the two client platforms, the Windows client takes better advantage of the address book/organizer metaphor and drag-and-drop operation. The main window shows an open notebook with sections for a calendar, a to-do list, an address book, a notepad, and a planner.
If you haven't seen Organizer in any previous version, you're missing out on one of its best features--links. When planning a meeting, you can link the meeting to the address-book entries for any noncompany folks who will be in attendance and further link the meeting to a notepad entry that has a meeting outline. The links feature is extremely convenient and makes Organizer worth looking at as a PIM (personal information manager).
Thanks to a connectivity solution from IntelliLink (1 Tam Blvd., Nashua, NH 03062, (603) 888-0666), Organizer can share its data with a host of popular PDAs (personal digital assistants). IntelliLink also works with Schedule+ and CaLANdar.
Enterprises running a mail system other than cc:Mail wouldn't want to install cc:Mail just to enable Organizer for group scheduling. But if you're already using cc:Mail, Organizer has an excellent user interface and an impressive feature set.
Schedule+ requires Microsoft Mail (or Hewlett-Packard OpenMail). If you have already installed Microsoft Mail in your enterprise, it's a snap to add this package to your servers, but Schedule+ does not come bundled with the E-mail system.
Schedule+ shares a number of services with Microsoft Mail: address books and the underlying name service; authorization services (including a single sign-in interface); a message-store database; and message sending, receiving, and retrieval. These services are available through API calls to common DLLs. Programmers can develop customized applications by accessing Schedule+ calendars. Not only do these shared services make Schedule+ easier to use for those familiar with Mail, but shared functions also reduce storage requirements and ease administration chores.
Schedule+ exchanges meeting requests among its clients. When you receive a request, you can accept or decline the invitation. After accepting a meeting request, you then update your personal calendar manually; Schedule+ does not automatically log the meeting into your calendar. Microsoft claims that manual updates give users more control over their personal calendars, but it would be more flexible if you were at least given the option to enable automatic calendar updates.
Schedule+ supports a wide range of permissions. You can grant other users the right to view or even modify your calendar. You can refuse access to your calendar and only allow meeting requests to be sent to you. Or, if a coworker attempts to set up a meeting time, you can issue free/busy packets to let him or her know if you are available at the scheduled time.
You can also give other users permission to read your calendar, create new appointments, or modify existing appointments. The assistant privilege lets you establish proxies. For instance, everyone in a department might grant assistant rights to a central coordinator. The coordinator could then open up multiple users' calendars in separate windows, add and modify schedules, and issue meeting requests around the department.
Schedule+ can pass meeting requests or free/busy packets across multiple Mail post offices, providing a WAN (wide-area network) solution for enterprise scheduling. You can reach over the WAN and find out whether any corporate coworker or client is available for a scheduled time. You can also establish a direct connection between post offices so that you can directly access other users' schedules across the enterprise.
This same structure effectively supports remote users, too. You can dial in and simply receive any meeting requests issued to you, or you can log in to the network and reconcile the schedule you've been keeping on the road with any additions or updates made to your home schedule.
This architecture works well on a single platform. Windows clients can share the calendars of other Windows clients and pass free/busy packets around, and Mac clients can do the same. The problem comes when you try to mix the two environments. Schedule+ supports only the passing of simple meeting requests across platforms. You can't share calendars across platforms, so your departmental coordinator would not be able to access the calendars of both Windows and Mac users from a single workstation. In fact, you can't even pass free/busy packets across platforms, so Mac clients can't search Windows clients for open meeting times, and vice versa.
Schedule+ is easy to learn and use, but there are considerable differences in the user interface across platforms. The Mac client software appears to be several revisions behind the Windows version, and it lacks some of the functionality, as does the MS-DOS version. (The DOS client is supplied by PowerCore International.) For instance, a to-do list is included only on the Windows client.
The scheduler itself lacks some niceties. Scheduled meetings must begin and end on 15-minute intervals (i.e., 1:00, 1:15, 1:30, and so on), and the allocation bar does not inform you of the meeting scheduled unless you double-click on it. For installations already using Mail, Schedule+ is a simple upgrade and offers an enterprise-wide solution--if you can accept the cross-platform limitations.
Microsystems Software CaLANdar
Rich with features, the CaLANdar Enterprise Scheduling system is designed for the eclectic user of electronic communications. Besides the standard tools for group scheduling, CaLANdar maintains a fairly extensive database file (Calodex) on each person that has a CaLANdar account and an automatic phone dialer. (It is not clear how to set up the dialer, however.) There is a network chat utility for communicating with another user, as well as a handy In/Out status indicator. CaLANdar can import and export to other file types and communicate with the appointment manager on the Sharp Wizard.
CaLANdar's strongest suit is the ease with which it lets you view and report the combined schedules of a group. CaLANdar works well for a person who must manage the combined schedules of a department or workgroup. A single person can (with permission) access other people's schedules, one at a time. Unfortunately, the group detail report can only be printed; it is not one of the screen displays.
Installing CaLANdar is somewhat difficult; however, the program will support a complex organization. It can communicate with other CaLANdar servers via an external E-mail system. The E-mail gateways include cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail, Vines Intelligent Messaging, Da Vinci eMail, BeyondMail, WordPerfect Office, and any MHS-based E-mail system.
The Macintosh and Windows user interfaces are very similar. CaLANdar has a unique time-bar display for navigating your daily schedule, and a clever link between the windows of different displays. There is even a fair amount of consistency in the MS-DOS interface, despite its heavily layered, multilevel menu approach. (Unfortunately, the MS-DOS version requires a huge amount of memory and will not load if you have a rich set of TSR programs and device drivers on your system.) Each user interface has context-sensitive help.
CaLANdar requires a PC-network server. Mac clients must mount the server through the Chooser. This makes for slow database access on the Macs.
On Technology Meeting Maker XP
Meeting Maker XP was the easiest program to install. The server can reside on either a Mac or a PC, but Meeting Maker does not have server-to-server communications or interfaces to external mail systems, as do CaLANdar and others. This system is more appropriate for departments or medium-size companies than for WAN-based enterprise scheduling.
Meeting Maker can import and export user lists through intermediate text files. This can make installing new servers easier. The message database is proprietary. It was fast and easy to maintain, even when we used a Mac SE as the server.
The Mac server talked to PCs through an IPX network stack for the Mac, which comes with the product. Only the server required the IPX stack, so that it could talk with the client PCs. The other Macs were already using AppleTalk, so no additional protocols were needed on the Macintosh side.
Meeting Maker lets you open a separate window (or iconized window) for any number of coworker schedules, as long as those people have given you permission to be a proxy for setting up meetings. As you attempt to include people in a meeting, you are warned of possible conflicts. You can also call a graph of the group schedule, which shows when other invited participants have scheduled activities. These tools would help a central coordinator devise departmental schedules. Unfortunately, the graph does not give you more than a day's view, so it's only good for picking a time within a day, not for determining the best day to hold the meeting.
Meeting Maker has the easiest find-free-time facility of any of the group schedulers. Click on a single button, and Meeting Maker suggests the first time and day that the invited members can get together without a conflict. Subsequent clicks generate other suggestions. The other group schedulers do this as well, but none as intuitively as Meeting Maker.
Meeting Maker retains the native look and feel of the Mac and Windows platforms. You can work off-line, so you don't have to maintain an active network connection to use your calendar.
Meeting Maker lacks the complexities necessary for distributed group scheduling, but of all the schedulers we reviewed, Meeting Maker is by far the easiest to learn and use.
Russell Information Sciences
Of the reviewed products, Calendar Manager is the only one that strictly implements the client/server model in the manner most people would expect. The server in Calendar Manager runs as a background task on a network file server. Depending on your environment, the server could be a NetWare 3.x server or a DEC VAX running VMS and DECnet. For mixed environments, all the server options can also communicate via TCP/IP protocols. Although Meeting Maker's use of a dedicated workstation as a server would also classify it as a client/server environment, that solution ties up a workstation. Calendar Manager uses leftover processing power on your file servers to manage the scheduling database.
The wide variety of servers supported by Calendar Manager suggests an equally rich selection of clients; we tested only the Windows and Mac client software, but Calendar Manager clients also run over DOS and Teamlinks/Pathworks for VMS. Older computer installations that still have ASCII terminals attached to a minicomputer can use the terminal client software ($2200 to $30,000 for an unlimited license, depending on system CPU configuration). Our test server was a VAXstation running VMS and using DECnet to communicate with our Macintosh and PC/Windows clients.
Calendar Manager's interface is remarkably similar across the Mac and Windows clients. In a large mixed environment, a consistent interface can make user training and support much easier.
Calendar Manager's client software displays your calendar by day, week, month, year, or Quick View, a format with multiple calendars side by side. In most organizations, busy executives will want to have an assistant check or update their calendar in their absence. For example, the VP of R&D in your company might choose to give her secretary full access to her schedule but keep her secretary from seeing the detailed agenda for some of the meetings. The office manager may need to be able to check the schedule without making changes. Calendar Manager's access modes make configuring these proxy levels a breeze. When you access someone's schedule as a proxy, the window is clearly marked to avoid confusion.
Resources (e.g., overhead projectors and conference rooms) are "invited" to a meeting in approximately the same way as users. One incredibly useful addition is the wild-card support in resource names. If your company has several conference rooms on each floor, you might designate them as ##CONF_1A and ##CONF_1B on the first floor and ##CONF_2A, ##CONF_2B, and ##CONF_2C on the second floor. When you schedule a meeting, you can designate ##CONF_2B if you want that specific room, ##CONF_2* if you'll take any room on the second floor, and ##CONF_* if you'll take any room on either floor. Using the star convention is pretty universal across Calendar Manager's client base and is an effective way to deal with groups of similar resources.
Perhaps Calendar Manager's strongest attribute is its performance. Since you have a client/server environment, your instance of Calendar Manager will send its request rapidly to the server using a peer-to-peer protocol (IPX, DECnet, or TCP/IP). The server maintains the calendars for all users registered on that node, performs the scheduling functions on local disk storage, and reports back instantly. Even a WAN environment won't slow it down significantly; DEC uses Calendar Manager across its WAN to coordinate meetings with folks across multiple continents. Using high-speed T1 and similar links, the Calendar Manager servers can speak with each other and come back with schedule confirmations within seconds.
WordPerfect Office's group-scheduling capability can easily be lost in the product's other facilities. It is, after all, primarily an E-mail system. But it does do cross-platform scheduling along with its cross-platform E-mail, and it supports Mac, Windows, and MS-DOS clients. WordPerfect Office can import the full naming conventions of the NetWare name bindery.
The WordPerfect Office server software (i.e., post office) must reside on a PC-LAN server, and so, as with CaLANdar, its database must be mounted on Macs through the AppleShare Chooser. Not only is the performance with this extra networking load slow on the Mac, it is also slow on a 50-MHz 486 running Windows with 8 MB of RAM. It requires a huge amount of disk space on the server--nearly 50 MB.
WordPerfect Office is entirely E-mail-based: Every communication within WordPerfect Office is a mail message that is sent from one user to another or to a group of users. For instance, when you want to schedule a meeting with a coworker, you send an E-mail message to the coworker, who then responds with an E-mail message back to you.
WordPerfect Office provides a form to search for available meeting times. After filling out the form, you are presented with a chart of the scheduled times for the proposed attendees. You can also designate a proxy to maintain your schedule.
Unfortunately, the user interface is far from intuitive unless you just want to use the scheduler as a simple adjunct to WordPerfect Office E-mail. And, as with Schedule+, the schedule and event granularity is limited to 15-minute intervals.
The WordPerfect Office scheduler has an impressive collection of formats in which to view your schedules. A group of WordPerfect Office servers can share directories, so changes to the user information on one server can be automatically distributed to other servers across the enterprise. Server gateways can hook into other mail formats, letting you send meeting notifications via fax, MHS, X.400, and SMTP (Internet). It is an attractive option if you are establishing an enterprise-wide E-mail solution and consider group scheduling a secondary concern. But dedicated group schedulers are less complex to set up and use.
A Schedule to Keep
Microsoft Schedule+, WordPerfect Office, and Lotus Organizer each run on the vendor's own established E-mail system. If you already have the underlying E-mail transport installed across the enterprise, the associated schedulers are an appropriate choice. Lotus Organizer has one of the best interfaces around, and Schedule+ includes strong support for WAN connections and dial-in users. Both products lack cross-platform consistency.
For large enterprises with WAN connections, Calendar Manager delivers the most effective solution. Its client/server architecture provides robust performance and seamless cross-platform support over LANs and WANs.
For smaller workgroups with Windows and Mac clients, Meeting Maker XP is by far the easiest package to install, learn, and use. It's an excellent choice for any workgroup that does not include WANs.
Lotus Development Corp. (Organizer) 55 Cambridge Pkwy. Cambridge, MA 02142 (800) 872-3387 (617) 577-8500 fax: (617) 693-0968 Microsoft Corp. (Schedule+) 1 Microsoft Way Redmond, WA 98052 (800) 426-9400 (206) 882-8080 fax: (206) 936-7329 Microsystems Software, Inc. (CaLANdar) 600 Worcester Rd. Framingham, MA 01701 (508) 879-9000 fax: (508) 626-8515 On Technology Corp. (Meeting Maker XP) 1 Cambridge Center Cambridge, MA 02142 (800) 548-8871 fax: (617) 374-1433 Russell Information Sciences (Calendar Manager) 115 Columbia St., Suite 100 Laguna Hills, CA 92656 (714) 362-4000 fax: (714) 362-4040 WordPerfect Corp. (WordPerfect Office) 1555 North Technology Way Orem, UT 84057 (800) 451-5151 (801) 225-5000 fax: (801) 222-2077