I've written before that one of the hardest things about moving to the Mac from Windows was leaving behind the Windows-version of Outlook, in particular its calendar.
I greatly miss two key features: ample space for making notes related to an event and the multiweek view to see events split across two months. Alternatives for the Mac from Apple, Google, and even Microsoft's own Mac-version of Outlook fail to measure up. That's too bad.
Room for notes
Let me start with the importance of allowing room for notes within events. When scheduling a meeting or an appointment, I often want lengthy notes to be part of the event on my calendar. I want room to list discussion topics, directions to a location, or perhaps the contents of an e-mail.
When I used Outlook for Windows, this wasn't a problem. The window used to create events left lots of room for adding notes:
In contrast, Calendar on the Mac (called iCal in Mac OS X before Mountain Lion) gives you one tiny line for adding notes, when you create an event:
Sure, as you start to enter information, the box expands. But it's not as nice as having plenty of space to stretch out before you start. Nor does it help after you've created an event and want to read long notes. There's no way to expand the reading area or change to wider margins.
With Google, it's easy to think that adding notes is an inconvenient two-step process. If you click to create an event, you get this:
That's nice. So why isn't Google Calendar a great solution for Mac users? It suffers from the same problem as Outlook for Mac: no multiweek display option.
Multiweek makes a difference
Consider what I had with Outlook for Windows:
This is what's sometimes referred to as a multiweek view. It's a month's worth of weeks, but they aren't all from the same month. Instead, the weeks from two different months are shown at once.
Multiweek is helpful to me (and I'm pretty sure to others) because I often want to see what's coming after a particular week. Multiweek allows this. It also makes it easy to drag and drop an event from one month to another.
It should be a no-brainer for a calendar program to offer a multiweek view. But Outlook for Mac doesn't. The Mac's iCal / Calendar doesn't. Google Calendar also fails to provide it. (The "4 Week" custom view option doesn't split four weeks across months.)
Struck by Lightning
Fortunately, there's a lesser-known solution for Mac users that offers space for leaving large notes and multiweek view. It's the Lightning calendar add-on for Thunderbird, Mozilla's e-mail client. After trying various options, Lightning has proven a dependable calendar for my day-to-day needs on the Mac.
It's even better with another add-on, Provider For Google Calendar. Using that allows your Lightning calendar to sync to Google Calendar. In turn, as I've covered before, this allows your calendar to flow to Android, iOS and even Windows Phone devices.
The only downside I've found is that when I don't have an Internet connection, sometimes Lightning won't display any of my events. That's a pain if I'm on a flight without Wi-Fi and want to review my schedule or add new events.
Working offline, staying in sync
The good news is that the Mac's native iCal / Calendar program can talk with Google Calendar. Since I sync Lightning to Google Calendar, that means it's easy to also keep my Mac's Calendar in sync. Then, if I'm on a trip without Internet access, I have an alternative calendar to use in a pinch. Mac Calendar works just fine in offline mode.
Google Calendar also has an offline mode, but I've not had much luck with it in the past. I'm going to give it a fresh test in the near future.
As for Outlook for Mac, I had tried SyncMate as I wrote about earlier. But after further testing, I found it just wasn't working as well as I'd hoped, sometimes seeming to have delays in having Outlook talk to Mac Calendar to in turn talk with Google Calendar.
I could try playing with it more; perhaps there are better ways that I could configure the software. But it seemed too complicated. For a similar reason, I haven't tried to get Outlook for Mac to sync using Microsoft Exchange.
If Outlook for Mac offered multiweek view, I might try harder. But lacking that, as well as lacking so much sync support overall, I've just given up on the calendar portion of the program.
I remain hopeful that a future version of Outlook for Mac will somehow catch up with its Windows cousin and give me easy sync as well as multiweek view. Until then, I carry on with Lightning on most days and with the Mac's native Calendar program when I must.