BusySync vs Spanning Sync

Google calendar is the new “Cool” in the calendar world. Or at least, the guys at work seem to think so. For me, a 100% online calendar is not always a good solution, because I can’t take it with me. Getting Google calendar to sync with iCal would help, because that syncs to my phone and iPod. I tried BusySync and Spanning Sync to do this. One of them succeeded.

I’ve always been a FiloFax guy. My organizer is a typical one, it’s rather big, and contains all business cards, papers, copies and notes I think are important enough to carry around. Every now and then (about every 2 years when I think about it) I try to migrate to a digital version. I’ve had a Psion 3c, an HP iPaq, I tried to do the “Print-a-GoogleCalendar” trick, and even briefly used my Sony Ericsson T610 as my calendar.

Every time, after a while, I find myself switching back to my trusty FiloFax. Usually because something happens to my calendar, or me not being able to access it. Failing backups, failing batteries, unreadable screens, awkward interfaces, and inability to scribble a simple drawing in there.

Last weekend I entered a new cycle of getting it all digital again. I’ve been digital for a complete week now, and it doesn’t feel too awkward. Maybe this time it will work…

Backing up

Before trying anything, I backed up my Google Calendars and iCal calendars. There wasn’t much in them, but it’s nice to be able to return to a known state. Yes, I have Time Machine but the trick of a backup system is not having to rely on it in your daily work. So here are 2 important links:

Backing up your Google Calendar and Backing up your iCal Calendar.

The Problem

Get a usable solution to view and update my calendar online aswell as on the road, without manual actions to get everything synchronized.

The Solution

Use Google Calendar for online editting, use iCal as central hub for synchronizing to all my devices, use my Nokia 6300 for viewing and editting on the road. My iPod nano is a nice extra for viewing my calendar when my phone dies on the road.

Apple has done a great job of synchronizing iCal to all my devices, so that’s a no-brainer. iTunes and iSync take care of that flawlessly, even without me asking, for a couple of months already. It’s just that I wasn’t really using iCal.

The challenge is in getting Google Calendar to sync with iCal. There are a couple of solutions to do this, and I choose to give BusySync and Spanning Sync a try, because these feel most suited to my wishes.


The first program I tried was BusySync. It’s a bit bloated for what I wanted to do with it, but it’s pricing model is nice, $25 for a license. I downloaded the trail and without reading the manual (because I think good software does not really need one) I tried to sync 2 existing calendars, one in iCal and one in Google Calendar.

I immediately screwed up all my calendars, 3 times in a row. This did not feel good. BusySync has a way too complex user interface, too many features, and has one very big flaw: It can not sync an existing Google Calendar into an existing iCal calendar (at least, I didn’t get how to do that). It is not clear about what it’s doing and the whole “publish/subscribe” thing confuses me because I don’t want to do either. I want to Synchronize both ways.

BusySync is trying to be the all-in-one solution for sharing calendars with Google, your friends, the neighbours dog, and back. It’s more like a “Calendar Server” kind of application which feels like it has to be online, all the time. This may be fun for the tweak-freaks out there, but it sure was not solving my problem in an easy and elegant way. So, BusySync was quickly uninstalled.


Much less bloated, Spanning Sync is a piece of software that only tries to solve 1 problem, and tries to solve it good. Spannig Sync can only do one thing, and that is synchronize Google Calendars with iCal calendars.

Immediately after installing, I entered my Google acount data, and Spanning Sync fetches the Calendar list from Google. It then asks which iCal calendar I want to sync with which Google Calendar. Nice. Within 3 minutes, I had all (existing) Google Calendars synced with my (existing) iCal calendars. Flawlessly.

Then I tried turning on the birthday feature of iCal, and sync that to a new Google calendar. Spanning Sync politely warns me that this Calendar is not editable, and changes in it’s Google counter part will not result in changes in iCal. Great, that’s the kind of warnings I can live with.

After synchronizing, I renamed my Google Birthday calendar to add the words “Read Only”, so I would not make the mistake of adding appointments there. Spanning Sync has no trouble with renamed Google Calendars. It recognizes them by a hidden unique identifier. Rename as you like.

You can see who has won the competition for me, hands down. Spanning Sync does a really nice job in synchronizing my calendars. The only downside is it’s strange pricing strategy. You can use Spanning Sync for a year for $25. Or, you can buy an unlimited license, which will set you back $65.

Because I returned to my FiloFax nearly every time I tried to “go digital”, I think I’ll pay for a yearly license en see where it all ends.

The showdown

In my case Spanning Sync “just works” and in the end, that’s what counts. I haven’t touched the Spanning Sync preference pane for a few days, and it is still synchronizing nicely. My phone is also synchronizing nicely, so I really feel that the calendar is there for me, in stead of the other way around.

From the top of my head, here are a few thoughts when comparing BusySync and Spanning Sync next to eachother:

BusySync Spanning Sync
Multi-purpose, all-in-one, lots of bells and whistles Single purpose, simple user interface
Publish/Subscribe model Two-way synchronization
Can not sync existing Calendars Can sync existing Calendars
Cheap, simple license Strange yearly license
$25 $25 a year, or $65 for an unlimited license

For now, it’s my Nokia 6300, iCal, Google Calendar and Spanning sync for me. But maybe, in a few weeks, you’ll read hwo lovely my FiloFax really is. It doesn’t need batteries, is crash-proof and allways-on. 🙂


15 Responses to BusySync vs Spanning Sync

  1. TwisterMc says:

    You’re review is interesting. I tried BusySync and it doesn’t feel bloated, worked on the first try and I bought a licensee a few days later. It’s been amazing and simple to sync my iCal calendar to Google and back.

    I do see that you tried to sync two existing calendars, one on Google and one in iCal, into one. I didn’t try that. I just synced my Google calendar down to iCal and now no matter which calendar I edit, they both stay up-to-date.

    For Spanning Sync, the price tag is way to high for me. BusySync all the way. 🙂

  2. rolfje says:

    Good to see that BusySync works for you. There’s also a sync tool by Plaxo, which syncs Outlook, Google Calendar, iCal, and a bunch of other tools, and it’s free. You can read more about it here:


    I haven’t tried the synchronization tool of Plaxo. I have used Plaxo a few months ago to manage my contacts, but the syncing did not work flawlessly all the time. In addition, Plaxo felt like extra work, because you constantly get mails like “Mr. X wants to add you to his adress book” and then you have to login to Plaxo to approve of that.

    Other than that, Plaxo could be a great solution for people with lots of calendar and contact information on multiple computers.

    One reminder on security: Plaxo breaks the rule of not sending passwords for service A to service B. You fill your Google account password into the Plaxo web application. This makes for weaker security. Hacking your Plaxo account possibly also gives access to all your other (Google, Yahoo, etc) accounts.

  3. TwisterMc says:

    Plaxo also doesn’t sync every 5 or 10 minutes. Last I knew it was once or twice a day. I need more up-to-date syncing than that.

  4. TwisterMc says:

    Plaxo also doesn’t sync every 5 or 10 minutes. Last I knew it was once or twice a day. I need more up-to-date syncing than that.

  5. rolfje says:

    Yes, I did notice that more people were complaining about the time it took for Plaxo to synchronize their calendars. And it doesn’t have a “sync now” button for when you really need it. But hey, it’s free 🙂

  6. rolfje says:

    This blog was read by the people of Spanning Sync aswell! They featured (the most marketable sentence of) this article at the Spanning Sync website. I’ve saved a screengrab of it here: http://www.23hq.com/rolfje/photo/3093443/view-large

    Always nice to see people reading your blog. Yesterday was my top day, on the 5th of May this blog had 184 different individual readers 🙂

  7. rolfje says:

    Still in beta, but Spanning Sync 2.0 will be a free upgrade for existing users, and will include address book syncing aswel!


  8. Lucky says:

    Thank you for your concise and user friendly review! As a google-everything user (i.e. I drank the koolaid and there seems to be no going back) I’ve been struggling to find that one thing that would help me synchronize my life across various platforms. I need access to my brain (google) online, but I need to be able to access my data offline as well as on the road with my smart phone. Spanning Sync and The Missing Sync seem to be the way to go. It’s unfortunate that we’re still at the mercy of rather pricey third party applications. It is beyond me why no one has written an extension or app to easily sync Thunderbird/Lightning/Sunbird with a pocket pc AND google for mac. The thought of being able to have my calendar, contacts and mail in just one program on my mac while easily syncing to my phone…. oh to dream.

  9. The Spanning Sync Beta v2.0 has some really great features, including contact synchronization, and should be going public soon. Spanning Sync is also offering “Save 5 Make 5” where you can get a $5 discount, and the referrer makes $5, read more about it on my site at: http://www.sync-my-calendar.com/spanning-sync.html

  10. […] these are the two alternatives for easy and reliable syncing but there’s no consensus which is better. However, after getting used to automatic contact syncing, I couldn’t think of using […]

  11. Spanning Sync has been great for me, especially with the added Contact sync, and their support is great as well. I’ve been in contact with several of their folks and they’re active on Twitter and such.

    Save $5 on it using D8BYCM!

  12. rolfje says:

    Or you can save $5 on it using A98QUR 😉

  13. Thanks for the great article, was really disappointed to find that you MobileMe wouldn’t synchronise Outlook calendars when linked to Exchange so was hunting around for a solution which would allow me to get my Work PC, Personal Macbook and iphone all in sync. I’d been trying a variety of different solutions but without much joy but after reading this article and a number of others on the web, Spanning Sync proved to be the final cog in the wheel of my solution.

    I use the Google Calendar synch for Windows to upload my work calendar to Google every 15 mins. I then use Spanning Sync to bring this plus my personal calendars together into my iCal, which I finally use to synchronise my iphone. Sounds a bit convoluted but it actually works quite well and with both the Google Synch on my work machine and Spanning Sync at home working automatically, I don’t even have to think about it.

    The added bonus of having Spanning Sync also update my contacts on Gmail, really sold the deal for me and I can highly recommend it. Been using the product for over a month now with no problems.

    Oh and you also save $5 now when you purchase a license by using the code QY979S 🙂

  14. Marco Pires says:

    I like BusySync. I use Google Calendar as my main Calendar application. Busysync does the job syncing with iCal and iSync gets it to my phone. If I edit anything on my phone, whenever I sync with iCal using iSync, BusySync will get it done with Google Calendar.

    In other words, I have all around syncronization with BusySync, no read-only or whatever calendars. I think as long as I keep Google Calendar as my main application, it shouldn’t be a problem (it works offline with google gears ;).

  15. DJ says:

    BusySync works for me. I just used the ‘Google’ tab since I’m only interested in syncing My various Google calendars. Easy as pie. Not sure why the author had such a problem with it. From what I understand, you can also set it up to sync directly from mac to mac as well, but I haven’t done that.

    The drawback is this whole ‘license’ thing. I could understand that for corporate use, but for home use? If I have two Mac’s, I must buy two licenses. Kind of dumb.

    Your mileage may vary… ^_^

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