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Bugs & Fixes: Troubleshooting MobileMe Calendar

Last week, Apple moved its new MobileMe Calendar from beta status to official release. After working with the software for the past week, I’m thinking that the move may have been a bit premature.

The biggest difference between the old and new Calendars is under-the-hood. Rather than having your calendar data based on your Mac and synced to MobileMe, your data are based in the MobileMe cloud—which now employs a CalDAV format. From the cloud, your data are synced back to your Mac as well as to other devices that you designate for sharing. This format change leads to a cascade of other differences.

Apple advice

Before delving into my own experience with Calendar, let’s begin with some selected tips from Apple.

Faster Performance message: If you use the new Calendar, you’ve probably seen a message that offers to “Keep a copy of your calendars on this computer for faster performance.” Accept the offer (unless you are not on your own computer). An Apple support article states: “This improves the performance of the new MobileMe Calendar by loading a copy of your data from the browser’s local storage, and then updating the data by checking with the MobileMe servers for any changes when you log in.” You can turn this option on or off at any time, via MobileMe’s Action menu. (Choose Preferences -> Advanced -> Performance & Security.)

Backing up data: With your Calendar data now primarily stored on Apple’s servers, you may be concerned about how to maintain a backup of your data. A support article explains that the simplest method (if you are using Snow Leopard) is to launch iCal and select File -> Export -> Export. To restore the data later, if needed, double-click the exported file in the Finder.

On the other hand, a separate support article notes that iCal’s similar File -> Export -> iCal Archive feature “is not recommended for backing up new MobileMe Calendar data.”

iPad-specific concerns: If you have an iPad, note that the device must be “manually configured for the new MobileMe Calendar.” This is a bit more involved than how things work with the iPhone or iPod touch. (The procedures will be unified when iOS 4.2 is released in November.) Similarly, “Push for calendars and events is currently only supported on iOS 4 devices. Push calendar updates are not supported iPad with iOS 3.2.”

Known issues: According to a “known issues” support article neither Calendar Alarms nor Subscribed calendars can be viewed, created, or edited at me.com. Also of interest: “Resetting Syncing or SyncServices will not impact the new MobileMe Calendar and should not be used as a troubleshooting step for the new MobileMe Calendar.”

My experience

Although the new Calendar is working well enough that I am not considering downgrading, it has been a bumpy ride.

iPhone delays: For one thing, I am seeing long delays between when I enter an event on my Mac and when it shows up on my iPhone. It can take several hours or even overnight. I never had such long delays with the old Calendar. I can confirm that data transfers relatively quickly from my Mac to the server at me.com. The problem is with the sync step from me.com to my iPhone. I have tried various troubleshooting fixes; none have helped. You’ll find similar reports on Apple’s Discussion Boards. (In some cases, users find that the events never appear on the iPhone.) At least one post claims that the calendar data on their iPhone was entirely deleted after the initial sync with the new MobileMe Calendar. Nnothing like that happened to me.

Server errors: I have had frequent server errors when accessing the Calendar at me.com.

One message stated: “Couldn’t load MobileMe calendar. A server error prevented MobileMe calendar from loading. If the problem persists, you may need to sign out and back in.” Logging out and back in had no effect.

Another error claimed: “Couldn’t load events. New events couldn’t be loaded because of a server error. Please try again.” Trying again had no effect.

A third message informed me that “Calendar has gone into offline mode because of an unexpected server error.”

While similar messages occasionally cropped up with the old Calendar software, I have seen them much more often since upgrading. And they can last for hours. Again, several postings at Apple’s Discussion Boards confirm these more frequent server errors.

BusyCal: I use BusyCal. As I have written about elsewhere, this adds yet another layer of complexity to the syncing process. It can also result in BusyCal-specific problems with the new Calendar software. In one case, all of my calendar data vanished from BusyCal. The cause turned out to be a long-lasting server error at me.com. When the server error finally cleared, the data returned. Until then, I was more than a bit nervous. BusyCal regularly updates its software. (The version compatible with the new MobileMe Calendar is still in beta.) I am confident it will soon squash any such conflicts.

More generally, MobileMe Calendar can present a real challenge for troubleshooting. Suppose you enter a new event on your iPhone. Hours go by and the event is still not on your Mac’s calendar software (in my case, BusyCal). Where did things go wrong? Was it with the Calendar app on the iPhone? Or with the iPhone’s connection to the me.com server? Or is the problem with me.com itself? Or is it with iCal or BusyCal on your Mac?

It can get worse. Imagine you are sharing your calendar with your family. Suppose you add a new event, and it shows up on your spouse’s calendar but not your daughter’s? Or what if an event shows up on your daughter’s Mac but not her iPhone? Even if you locate the likely source of the problem, it may not be clear what you need to do to fix it. What’s your first step? What’s your last resort? I can get a headache just thinking about this. It’s not only MobileMe. Welcome to the world of cloud computing and multiple device syncing.

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