Friday, February 04, 2011

20 Years of Electronic Calendars and Time Zone Shifts are Still a Problem

Maybe it’s the wave of new technology that has me bothered or maybe it’s the real lack of innovation that seems to be largely ignored or maybe it’s something else. All I know is that I still cannot put appointments into my Outlook calendar, travel across the country, change my time zone and have the appointments stay where I put them.

Now I know many of you will tell me that there are ways to tag an appt with the time zone so that when I shift the Windows setting, the appointment ends up in the right spot. I know all about that. The problem is that when I am in Oregon and planning meetings in various cities during a week long trip around the US, I do not want to think about which time zone is involved. I know I will be in New York on a specific day and my meeting is at 10:00am. Why can’t I put the meeting in my calendar for 10:00am and have it stay there? For 20+ years, no one has solved this really simple problem.

It is so simple, if I had the money to build and market an Outlook replacement, I would patent my idea. The solution takes a single bit. That’s right. A single bit that is either a 1 or a 0. The bit is the TZTrack bit. If an appointment when entered into my calendar needs to hold its position regardless of time zone changes, I set the bit to 0. If I want the appt to track the time zone, I set the bit to 1. In the user options page, the user is given an option to set the default for this bit so that only exceptions involve changing this bit.

The beauty of this idea occurs when I arrive in NYC from Oregon. I change the time zone for my laptop and smartphone (what an ironic name considering how stupid they are but I digress). When Outpost, my name for the really useful e-mail/calendaring program, recognizes the time change, only those appointments with the TZTrack bit set to 1 shift. Conference calls for example need to shift automatically. Meetings I have set are left alone as the TZTrack bit is not set. All I have been able to do with both my phone and computer is change the time leaving the time zone alone. Yes, I know that means manually changing the conference calls but there are fewer of them than the meetings so less work wins.

So how hard would it be for someone to add a single bit of data to each calendar item along with some simple logic to examine the TZTrack bit before shifting appointments en mass? Yeah, I know. “Pretty simple but there are bigger issues that need addressing.”

I do not know how to reach the iCal standards board but I would happily switch to Thunderbird from Mozilla if they were to adopt the TZTrack bit idea. Hell, I’ll forgo seeking a patent on the idea if someone will build an MS Outlook add-in that provides this feature. I’d ask Steve Ballmer to do it but he is too busy trying to figure out why Windows Phone 7 doesn’t do half of what Windows Mobile 5 does including Cut & Paste.

In the meantime, if you know how to configure stand-alone Outlook 2007 to not move appointments when I change time zones, I am all ears.

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