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How to Share Outlook Calendars without Microsoft Exchange

Prepared by Ian Matthews October 1, 2003, last updated Sept 20, 2003

The process to setup Outlook to see other users calendars is not very difficult but there is almost no documentation on the topic.  This page is intended to correct that problem.

It is no surprise that Microsoft wants people to buy Exchange, but it just is not necessary.  Exchange is outrageously expensive: CDN$10,000  high powered stand alone server + CDN$2000 Exchange Server Software + CDN$100 per seat + CDN$1000 Windows 200x + CDN$??? IT labour.  It is not unusual to spend CDN$30,000 on an Exchange roll out for a 100 seat office.  That is NUTS.  Exchange offers only 5 core functions:

  1. Mail Server

  2. WebMail Access

  3. Shared Calendaring

  4. Shared Address Book

  5. Shared Folders

Buy any other solid email server (like Merak) which comes with excellent scalability and webmail, and you can add in your own shared Calendaring and Shared Address Book in minutes!  As for Shared Folders, I must admit that I never understood why you would want to share files through your mail server... that is what your file server is for.

Microsoft's "free" shared calendaring feature is called "net folders" but they only support about 5 users, are notoriously unreliable, and NetFolders do not exist in Outlook 2002/3 .  As a result, they are not a very good option for most companies.

The process below can be summarized by saying that you set Outlook to automatically publish text files containing basic calendar information, onto a central FTP or Web Server.  It is not difficult and will only cost you your time; no additional licenses, software or hardware are typically required.

There are only two real limitation to this system:

  1. It does not allow you to "delegate" control of your calendar to an assistant, and;

  2. It does not allow you to see other users calendar detail; just if they are "Free" or "Busy" at a particular time.

Most small and mid-sized firms could not care less about these two issues. 

Well, lets get to it...


WEB-SERVER SETUP

Any Web or FTP server will do but the process below illustrates the setup of Microsoft's Internet Information Server as a host for "iCalendar" files automatically generated and updated by Outlook.  This process was much easier under IIS5 (Windows 2000) but can still readily be completed using IIS6 (Windows 2003).

  1. Ensure you web server is installed and functional.
     

  2. Create a folder called FREEBUSY

     

  3. Set the IIS directory security to full control

     

  4. If you are running IIS5 (Windows 2000) you will also have to set the NTFS permissions to something like EVERYONE=FULL CONTROL or AUTHENTICATED USERS=FULL CONTROL.

 

MICROSOFT FRONTPAGE SERVER EXTENSIONS ISSUES

Because FrontPage Server Extensions have their own access controls you will find that the easiest way to "share" the freebusy data is to create a NEW subweb for your FREEBUSY folder

You need to set the ANONYMOUS access to AUTHOR

 

MICROSOFT IIS6 - WINDOWS 2003 ISSUES

IIS6 (Windows 2003) will not serve content it does not have registered.  Outlook will create .VFB files and .VFB is not a registered file type in IIS6.  Therefore you need to create a .VFB entry in IIS's "MIME TYPES".  You can do this at the server, website or folder level:

  1. On the WEBSITE and FOLDER levels you can access the MIME types from the HTTP HEADERS

  2. MIME types are editable at the SERVER level by right clicking on the server name, selecting PROPERTIES, then clicking the MIME TYPES button.

Click the NEW button, and enter .VFB as the EXTENSION and TEXT/CALENDAR as the MIME TYPE.

After this change, up will need to stop/start the World Wide Web service to have IIS6 recognize the updated MIME TYPE list.


CLIENT SETUP

Setting up Outlook is quite easy but because of the complete lack of documentation two years ago when I created this process, it took more than a day of 'testing' to get right.

  1. Start Outlook, and click TOOLS, OPTIONS, and click the CALENDAR options button,

     

  2. The top settings are self explanatory so use your own judgment.  However, it is important to:

    • UNCHECK the PUBLISH & SEARCH USING MS OFFICE FREE/BUSY SERVICE

    • set the PUBLISH and SEARCH settings to: http://yourserver/freebusy/%name%.vfb


     

  3. Close and restart Outlook
     

  4. Repeat this process for all of your users

Congratulations; your done!

After 15 minutes you should see .VFB files starting to appear in your websites FREEBUSY folder. 

You can test to verify if you system is working by starting to creating a new meeting in Outlook.  In Outlook, simply click FILE, NEW, MEETING, then click the SCHEDULE tab and add in your users email address'.  If there FREEBUSY information appears as in blue, then your system is functioning properly.

Now that the calendaring is working, Outlook will automatically create meeting invitations for anyone in your company.  They will receive an email with ACCEPT, DECLINE and TENTATIVE ACCEPT.  If a meeting is accepted their calendar will be instantly and automatically updated and the person who created the meeting will get a response which will be automatically tracking in their Outlook.  VERY COOL!

Note that if you setup your Windows 2000/2003 Active Directory to be a Central Address book for Outlook, then you can simply type in other users names in the OTHER ATTENDEES fields or even better use the ADD OTHERS button.  The VERY easy instructions on how to complete this are available on this site HERE.

 

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