Managing shared or team calendars has always been a problem in Microsoft Office Outlook. You either had to use a mailbox that was accessible by everyone, or you used a public folder that didn't work with your Outlook calendar. Using Outlook 2007 combined with Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 or Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007, you can now link a SharePoint calendar to Outlook, and you can even add, modify, or delete appointments when you're offline. Let’s see how you and your team can benefit from using shared calendars.

In previous columns, I explained how you enable synchronization by selecting the desired SharePoint list or document library and clicking "Connect to Outlook" on the Actions menu ("SharePoint Integration with Outlook 2007, Part 3," June 29, 2007). Syncing the calendar with Outlook adds the SharePoint calendar to Outlook's Navigation pane under Other Calendars and sets it to active. When a calendar is active (checkbox selected), you'll receive reminders set on appointments in the shared calendar—a pop-up window appears to alert you about your group appointments, such as department meetings. You don’t need to add these appointments to your local calendar to get a notification. However, if you want to add shared appointments to your calendar—for example, to synchronize them with other devices, such as your PDA—you just need to open the appointment and use the “Copy to My Calendar” button.

Another great feature of Outlook 2007 makes it possible to view multiple calendars at the same time: Overlay mode. When you open multiple calendars in Outlook 2007, by default it shows them next to each other with the calendar view called Side-by-Side mode. To switch, choose View in Overlay Mode from the View menu. On the tab of the calendar pane, you'll find an arrow that you can also use to enable or disable Overlay mode. In Overlay mode, all your calendar items appear together. You can tell which calendar appointments come from because each calendar appears in a different color. However, in Overlay mode you can't drag and drop appointments between the different calendars. You must either switch to Side-by-Side mode, use cut and paste, or drag the items to the Navigation pane.

All attributes of Outlook appointments are supported on the SharePoint site: I haven't had any problems adding priorities, color categories, or attachments to appointments. The only limitation I've found is that the SharePoint calendar doesn't support meeting requests; it only supports appointments. If you create a meeting request when the SharePoint calendar is active in Outlook, the request will fail. As a workaround, you can create meeting requests when your default calendar is active and copy them to the SharePoint calendar later.

Shared calendars are very useful, as I've seen in my own department. For example, we use a shared calendar for vacation information. People add an All Day Event for days they'll be out. Whenever I open my calendar, I immediately see who's on vacation. Also, we use a shared calendar for team events such as departmental workshops or any appointment that's of interest for the whole department. This makes tracking your schedule easy, and it's especially useful if you’re part of multiple projects that previously filled up your calendar. Now appointments are kept in separate calendars, and you can add them on demand to your Outlook profile.

Go ahead, start using shared calendars. You'll be amazed at how they can help you and your team work smoothly together.

Outlook Internet Site of the Month This month’s site offers a couple of interesting free Outlook macros. Try the following blog: http://niveauverleih.blogspot.com/search/label/Outlook%20VBA%20Macros. In this section dedicated to Outlook, you'll find a macro for creating yearly calendar views in Outlook and several other useful tips. Check it out—you might find some nuggets here to help you!

As always, if you find a link for an interesting new freeware tool or add-on for Outlook, let me know! Send me a message at siegfried.jagott@siemens.com.