Exchange Server 2010 : Outlook Integration (part 2) - Calendar Integration

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2. Calendar Integration

Shared calendars are a great way to schedule team meetings, reserve resources such as a projector, or just document milestones for a project. Shared calendars have been around for many years with Outlook and Exchange, but times have changed and many now store these shared calendars within SharePoint websites. One advantage to a SharePoint calendar is that you can locate it with other related department or project resources (contacts, documents, tasks, and so forth).

Outlook displays calendars from SharePoint in the same way that it shows personal and public folder calendars. With Outlook 2007, this integration is two way, meaning that not only can you see SharePoint calendar entries from Outlook, but you can also create, edit, and delete them.

Once the SharePoint calendar is connected in Outlook, it is visible from the Calendar view from the navigation pane (by default on the left). You work with a SharePoint calendar just like any other calendar. For example, you can search calendar entries, or create, change, and delete entries. All changes made using Outlook are automatically synched with the SharePoint calendar on the server. Whether you are working with it through Outlook or the SharePoint browser interface, you are working with the same set of calendar entries.

Let's see how some of this works. We'll start by first connecting a SharePoint calendar, as shown in Figures 1 and 2 earlier. With the connection in place, let's take a look at side-by-side calendars, which is a handy way to see how meetings overlap, allowing you to spot potential conflicts. From the calendar view, we have selected both a personal and a project calendar. Figure 3 shows how they look side by side.

Figure 3. Viewing side-by-side calendars

Outlook also has a great overlay mode that allows you to see all the entries within one unified view. Each calendar's entries will show in a different color, allowing you to spot the calendar from which an entry originates (see Figure 4).

Figure 4. Calendars in overlay mode

To activate overlay mode, you simply click the left-arrow icon in the calendar's tab at the top. You return to side-by-side view by clicking the right-arrow icon in the same tab.

To include a SharePoint calendar on a meeting request, you must enable incoming email on it. We will explain how to do this in the next section.

Unlike Outlook, SharePoint doesn't allow you to have a meeting reminder for appointments. Nonetheless, you can still use reminders for SharePoint calendar entries provided that you have connected the calendar into Outlook as we just covered. All you need to do is double-click the entry and manually add a reminder setting. The reminder setting will not be sent back to the SharePoint calendar. This means that it is only a personal reminder and will not apply to other users of this calendar.

Having a locally, cached copy of the calendar is a great advantage and allows you to work with this content while you are offline. For example, while you are traveling or just offline, you can still read and edit calendar entries. When you are connected, these will automatically be synchronized. Local changes from Outlook are sent to the server and changes on the server are downloaded. Of course, there is always the chance of a conflict, but Outlook is quite smart at handling this.

For example, let's say that you have a SharePoint calendar entry that is scheduled to start at 10 a.m. While offline, you change the start time to 11 a.m. Meanwhile, another user changes it through the browser to 9 a.m. When you sync, Outlook will detect that the item changed on the server and will not overwrite it. At this point, the meeting time reflected in Outlook is 9 a.m. However, if you open up the item, Outlook will inform you about what happened and allow your changes to override what's on the server. If you do this, the meeting would be changed to 11 a.m.

A final calendar integration option between Outlook and SharePoint involves not connecting to a calendar, but opening a single SharePoint calendar entry in Outlook. When viewing a SharePoint calendar item through the browser, you have the option of downloading this into an .ics file. Outlook recognizes this file type and then stores this entry into your personal calendar. This is convenient if you only want to store a copy of one or more calendar entries. You can do this by first clicking the Export Event link when viewing a single calendar entry. Figure 5 shows how the screen looks in the browser.

Figure 5. Exporting a calendar entry into Outlook

From here, you will be prompted to download the .ics file type that Outlook automatically recognizes. Figure 6 shows what the dialog looks like.

Figure 9.6. Download the .ics calendar entry.

The item will then show up within Outlook. At this point, you must save it; once you do, it will be stored in your personal calendar.

Managing Time Zones

Company XYZ has two offices, one in New York City and one in San Francisco. Despite the separation, many projects get executed by staff in both offices. To organize documents, tasks, and scheduled events, they use SharePoint websites. However, time zones can be tricky to manage, especially with managing calendar entries.

Each SharePoint website has its own regional settings that define, among other things, the time zone in which calendar entries are displayed. By default, when working with SharePoint using the browser, all dates and times shown are based on this time zone setting defined for the website. In other words, SharePoint does not read and use the time zone from the local computer.

To help eliminate confusion, for all project websites that use resources from both offices, Company XYZ has standardized on using Eastern Standard Time (EST), the time zone for the New York office.

For the users based in San Francisco, they override these default settings and specifically tell SharePoint what their local time zone is. This allows them to view dates and times that are correct for them. To do this, they click their name (by default located in the upper-right corner) and select My Settings. From here, they click My Regional Settings and adjust the time zone.

In most cases, this works just fine for them, but what about when someone is traveling? For example, a user normally based in New York is now working out of the San Francisco office. Again, by default, SharePoint will continue to display calendar entries in New York time. This may be what makes most sense to the user but maybe not. The bottom line is that there is no right answer, and it has become an important training issue in the company.

Fortunately, when linking the SharePoint calendar into Outlook, everything is displayed properly. This is because Outlook is able to translate all entries into the local time zone of the computer, something the browser cannot do. Company XYZ has found that using Outlook this way is the best strategy to solve this time zone problem.

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