Question: Just in the last few weeks, I have noticed a plethora of people using Google calendars. First I encountered one for several people who own the same piece of beach property. They live in far-flung places, so this was a perfect way for everyone to take part without thousands of e-mail messages and mixed messages.

Then my wife and I set one up because we can get into it both at work and at home and put all our myriad personal, professional, familial and other obligations in a central place. So it seemed to me that Google has once again hit a sweet spot.

However, I wondered how new this was. Does Microsoft have something like this - a shareable calendar? Are there cool features to Google calendar that we have yet to discover?

I also am working on a shared Google spreadsheet with a colleague. That way, we don't have to send attached files back and forth endlessly, with much chance for error.

I'm sure Google loves it because it ties us all even more firmly in their web, or Web. But it's just a relief to me that technology has come up with something that actually does save us time and make things easier.

Answer: You're right. Google Calendar is incredibly useful. Like you, my husband and I have ditched the wall calendar in favor of an online version we both can get access to anytime. It lets us make plans on the fly, rather than having to postpone a decision until we can check the calendar - a huge bonus for couples or families on the go.

There are some neat little features you may not be aware of. For instance, you can add the weather forecast to your Google calendar by clicking on "settings" at the upper right, then entering your ZIP code and selecting what format you want for the temperature.

Visit www.google.com/googlecalendar/new.html to learn more about other new features.

Google calendars also can be used on a larger scale. One of my colleagues has embedded a Google calendar into our organization's Web site. You can do that by creating a calendar, then finding it under "my calendars" on the left side of the screen. Click on the triangle next to your calendar's name and select "calendar settings." There, you'll see html code to embed the calendar in a Web site.

Another neat feature allows you to subscribe to public calendars and import their events into your calendar. For instance, if someone wanted to add all of my group's upcoming events to their own calendar, they could click on the small "+ Google Calendar" button at the bottom right of the screen to import them.

The difficulty is in finding public calendars to import. An online community is trying to build a repository of public Google calendars.

You can see it and add your own at googlecal.com.

As for your question about Microsoft, the software giant does allow people using Outlook 2007 to share their calendars for free using My Office Online (office.microsoft.com). (Note: You'll need to sign in with a Windows Live ID.) Outlook 2007 users also can search My Office Online for public shared calendars.

By the way, Microsoft has introduced a free service to rival Google Documents - Office Live Workspace. In addition to housing thousands of Microsoft Office documents online for free, the system allows you to create separate workspaces for each shared project so that you can grant permissions to different people, as applicable. You can find it at workspace.officelive.com.

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