Online Calendars: What Are Your Self-Hosted and SaaS Options?
When it comes to maintaining a reliable, feature-rich, robust calendar for your business or personal needs, you have several options to consider. One of the first selections is whether to select a self-hosted or SaaS calendar application.
Where is The Calendar?
A self-hosted calendar resides on your own server. This means that you can either run your own server or pay a hosting company to maintain the server for you.
As with all hosts, this means you spend a monthly or yearly fee for something like shared, VPS, or dedicated hosting. A shared hosting account is the most common for smaller websites, so can support calendar apps and software with no problem.
A SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) calendar, on the other hand, utilizes a software distribution model where the SaaS provider hosts the calendar application, then makes it available to users or customers over the web.
Access to SaaS Calendar
Access to a SaaS calendar is typically sold as a subscription, where the hosting and overall calendar management is carried out by a company like Google or Microsoft. Some of the most popular calendar services today include Google Calendar, iCloud Calendar, and Outlook.
As the user, you enter your information -- events, times and dates, alarms, and recurrence parameters -- then access your calendar via the web. The SaaS provider maintains your calendar on a website or standalone portal.
What Would People Usually Choose?
Because a self-hosted calendar requires your own server or hosting company, the main reason users go with this type of setup is when they already have a website running on those servers. Before SaaS calendars, this was one of the only ways to configure a web-based calendar where other people could view it from their own computers.
Since most people prefer not to create a website just to run an online calendar, the majority of self-hosted calendars were owned by companies. Therefore, a website would reveal a calendar with something like upcoming events. It was also common for corporations to store private calendars on a server for internal planning.
Convenience and Ease SaaS Calendars vs SaaS
As you likely know, SaaS calendars like Google Calendar and Outlook have become more popular because of how convenient they are. Although there are far more websites in the world today, it typically makes more sense to run a calendar through Google or Microsoft because of the ease-of-use, flexibility, and the fact that it's free or inexpensive.
A self-hosted calendar syncs to (usually) a single computer, giving you all the control you need over your own calendar. In the past, you may have needed to access your work calendar at home, as well as at the office. Since most people only had one computer at home, a self-hosted calendar was entirely sufficient.
However, the rise of mobile devices has made it more difficult for these self-hosted calendars to be accessed on multiple devices, which more and more users are demanding.
Interfaces and Tools
That's where SaaS options come into play. They're often provided through a web-based interface for viewing the calendars on mobile browsers. Even more important, however, is the rise of mobile calendar apps, which provide beautiful interfaces and constant connection to calendars.
Many self-hosted calendars are open source. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that you get access to their tools for free. In fact, it's quite the opposite. Since a website or server is needed to build your own calendar system, providers generally charge users a hosting fee, either on a monthly or yearly basis.
In other words, while hosting companies typically market the self-hosted email and calendar services as free, access to those tools is most likely wrapped up in the hosting package being sold. On the other hand, SaaS solutions like Google Calendar and Microsoft Calendar are offered either at no cost or for a small monthly fee.
The Technical Benefits of a Self-Hosted Calendar
The practice of hosting a calendar has gone by the wayside, but it still has benefits to consider. First of all, many corporations already have intricate calendar systems configured on their websites.
It would be costly and time-consuming to generate a new calendar that most likely has watered-down features and items that aren't customized for the company.
SaaS Calendars Were Not Designed for Conventional Use
Another reason that self-hosted calendars seem to be less prevalent currently is that they were never really meant for average consumers. The whole world knows what Google Calendar is, but that's primarily because consumers -- that is, ordinary individuals -- use it every day.
Before the rise of SaaS calendars, many of these people didn't even know it was possible to create a web-based calendar; if they did, there wasn't much of a reason to explore it further, because of the website requirement.
What are some of the other benefits of a self-hosted calendar?
- Monetization and Support
- Customization and Tools
- Lightweight and Worthwhile
- Multi-User Support
- Multi-Language Support
Monetization and Support
Whether you're an individual or business user, if you have an existing website you can save money and provide a feature-rich calendar for your team. Many hosts also provide dedicated support for launching your website and setting up a calendar without much work on your end.
Customization and Tools
Self-hosted calendars provide better customization tools for organizations. Branding is easier to manage, you can add unique fields, and custom development is possible with open-source calendars. If you find the right host, you can generate a high-powered booking solution without having to pay for an advanced plugin or limit your company to the features that come with those plugins.
Lightweight and Worthwhile
Self-hosted calendars are often extremely lightweight and easy to use. As long as your host provides the tools, you shouldn't have any problems with setting it up or with slower site speeds. Since these calendars require servers, they come with hosting services and various other products packaged in. This is a great deal for businesses since you can launch a website, get your custom email address, create an online calendar, build an online store, and much more.
Self-hosted calendars support single and multiple user setups, where the calendars might be hidden from the public or shared so that several people can view them. Some web-based, hosted calendars cater to certain industries. For instance, SuperCali is made with data entry organizations in mind.
Multi-Language Support and Data Handling
Its collaboration tools provide communication options and more power for quick data additions. ExtCalendar, on the other hand, is known for its multi-language support, which works well for international business.
The Technical Benefits of a SaaS Calendar
SaaS calendars beat out self-hosted calendars in the popularity department. There's no doubt about that. Yet, this popularity doesn't necessarily stem from these calendars having better features. Rather, it's more due to the convenience provided to the average consumer.
Student Use of SaaS Calendars
Take students, for example. A college freshman typically receives a free university email address. This is great, but that doesn't provide her with a sleek email inbox interface or any type of calendar module.
Therefore, it's been common for college students to integrate with Google Apps (or Apple products) to either integrate with their university email or forward the emails to their preferred inbox.
Great Value Plans
Suites like Google Apps have products like calendars, spreadsheets, documents, and presentation. Therefore the student receives far more value without having to pay any money if they choose the free Gmail route. They also have the option to pay for Google Apps, which starts at $5 per month. Compare that to setting up a hosting account, launching a website, and figuring out a self-hosted calendar.
The self-hosted solution might have more features, but it's intimidating and potentially costly.
Further Benefits of Note
Besides the primary benefit of convenience, what are some other technical features that stand out for SaaS calendars?
Complimentary Tools and Value
Many SaaS calendars come with a wide variety of other tools (often free tools). As mentioned, Google Calendars is far more than a calendar module. It has maps, email, photos, YouTube, Google Keep, Drive, Docs, and Spreadsheets.
Some of the SaaS calendars are completely free. Others, like Outlook, let you sign up for a monthly fee or submit a one-time payment to download the software. These costs are often less than what you would have to pay for a website on a hosting account.
Multi-Platform Compatibility and User-Friendliness
These calendars provide mobile access with the help of smartphone and tablet apps. All you need is one account to log in to separate apps and interact with the exact same calendar you manage on your computer.
SaaS calendars are often seen as more user-friendly than their self-hosted counterparts. It helps that the world has grown to recognize interfaces from companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft, but these brands have always catered to consumers from the start.
Not only that, but large tech companies like Google roll out updates on a regular basis. You're more likely to see improvements from Google than an unknown self-hosted calendar developer.
Self-Hosted Calendar Solutions
If you're leaning towards a self-hosted calendar solution, you will need to do some careful research before finalizing your selection. Some of the most well-known self-hosted calendars are not regularly updated any longer.
Furthermore, calendars vary depending on the host you go with. Here are some names to look into:
- CGI Calendar
- Flat Calendar
Luxcal is a free PHP-based calendar that's offered through several well-known web hosts. The point of it is to remain lightweight and user-friendly without the need for sacrificing too many features. You can keep track of your events without the bloat you'll find with the competition.
Here's a system meant to make a public calendar system for libraries. Brushtail was eventually released as an open source product, so any organization can use it.
This PHP calendar features quick installations, multiple users, and a contact selection module. It was last updated in 2015, but it still has a purpose for large organizations with a large number of activities.
Booking calendars have become more accepted as alternatives to regular calendars. The reason for this is because self-hosted calendars are often used by companies. Therefore, many companies need this more advanced booking functionality. For instance, a doctor or restaurant may need it.
The phpicalendar option provides the parsing and sharing of iCalendars. It's all done on a website where the calendar is shown in a logical, clean manner, with support for 25 languages.
WebCalendar is one of the more well-known self-hosted options, with a PHP-based system and support for both multi and single user calendars. Over 30 languages are supported, making it great for international business.
Not to mention, it handles more complex tasks like checking for conflicts, subscribing to remote calendars, and authenticating users.
As one of the non-PHP calendars, CGI Calendar is a little unique because of its infinite date range. Development stopped in 2007, but it still might be of interest to programming students.
The Flat Calendar program stopped being updated in 2002. Although the PHP calendar had promised in the past, it doesn't make much sense to consider it today.
SaaS Calendar Solutions
There are some popular choices available for those looking for SaaS calendars. The following calendars are worth taking a look at.
Windows Mail and Calendar
Windows offers multiple email systems, one of which is a free app bundled in with the Windows Operating system. It's best for a mobile interface where you might not be checking your emails that frequently.
This is a watered down version of Outlook. Where Windows Mail is used for personal emails, Outlook offers support for businesses. The good thing is that it also comes with a calendar. But once again, it's for basic, personal use.
Outlook is the calendar and email program for professionals. It's widely regarded as one of the best calendar/email combinations for business, with calendars, contacts, and to-do lists. Categorized messages make large inboxes easier to manage, and the apps are great for mobile email.
This is an all-in-one event calendar provided with Gmail or the Google Apps suite. It comes with a smooth interface, mobile access, complementary programs like email and spreadsheets, and a more personalized experience for managing events.
It also provides reminders, color coding, and multi-user access.
iCloud Calendar (formerly Apple Calendar)
This Apple calendar app functions similarly to Windows Mail, with complimentary email tools and task management. Although it can be used for business, most utilize its functionality for personal events.
Integrating SaaS Calendars with Websites
A SaaS calendar is created and shared online or from a computer. The overall convenience of this setup makes it even more of a useful replacement for the traditional self-hosted calendars.
For instance, an option like Google Calendar resides in one primary location online. The moderator can decide to share that link and assign different access levels depending on how much control each user should have.
Sharing and General Integration
You might consider this the dashboard, or control center, for Google Calendar. Yet, it also allows for sharing and access to other platforms and devices. For example, a user can install Google calendar apps on phones, tablets, and other computers, syncing the original calendar for use on the road or for other users in your organization.
In addition, a SaaS calendar, like Google Calendar, has widespread integration options for displaying the calendar on websites.
Simple Calendar by WordPress
For instance, there's a WordPress plugin called Simple Calendar. It's a basic, free plugin that anyone can install on their WordPress website. After activating the plugin, a Google Calendar can be added to the plugin and shown on the site.
Once again, it all depends on how the calendar is being used. It might have access controls for a company's internal calendar, or it may have all editing tools turned off for a public calendar (like for a church that wants to share upcoming events).
A SaaS web calendar often provides HTML code to copy and paste into a website text editor or widget. This eliminates the need for a plugin. It also gives the user some standard customization tools for quickly placing the source code on their website and receiving an interactive duplicate of the original calendar.
Customer Support for Self-Hosted and SaaS Calendars
One interesting advantage of a self-hosted calendar app over a SaaS one is that there's a good chance of better customer support from your hosting company. It obviously depends on the brand you decide on; some hosts have excellent support and others, quite frankly, don't.
However, when you put a host with quality support up against the customer support from, say, Windows or Google, it's hard for those larger tech companies to compete.
Support from the Big Players
Windows, Apple, and Google are not exactly famous for their customer care. The brands make highly-functional, sleek products and software. However, if a user encounters a problem, they'll have to resort mostly to forums, blogs, and knowledge bases, not individualized assistance.
So, it's still somewhat similar to sifting through a user's manual when you run a SaaS calendar service like Outlook or Apple Mail.
That's not a bad thing for some people, since online conversations about Google, Apple, and Microsoft products are plentiful. In addition, many consumers have learned to research calendar problems by going straight to a forum or search engine, without even thinking about calling a customer support line or sending in an email.
Direct Support for Self-Hosted Calendar Clients
However, self-hosted calendars still have that advantage of direct customer support from the host itself. The most reputable hosts provide phone numbers and email addresses on every page of the website, with knowledge base information, blog posts, and live chat modules for instant support.
Many of the hosting plans come with 24/7 support, and this includes guidance on any questions you may have about your web-based calendar.
In comparison, Google leads customers through a knowledge base that's apparently devoid of helpful customer support contact information. In fact, the Google Calendar section lets users send in problem reports about the calendar, but it's not exactly a ticketing system where Google replies to that individual.
How Relevant is SaaS Calendar Support?
The final item to consider with online calendar support is the knowledge about the particular calendar and whether or not many people use it anymore. Sure, Google doesn't provide the best direct customer support, but everyone knows how to use the calendar.
Customers can ask friends, family members, or complete strangers and there's a decent chance that they'll find someone to guide them through Google Calendar. In addition, plenty of bloggers and random people on the internet are knowledgeable enough about Google Calendar since it's used by so many people.
Self-Hosted Calendars Aren't Exactly Intuitive or Used
However, when you think about self-hosted calendars like WebCalendar or LuxCal, the average person on the street won't know what you're talking about. Some of these self-hosted calendars aren't actively developed anymore, making it difficult to find much information about them online. You also need to consider the customer support reps at your hosting company.
A brand such as A2Hosting provides calendars like LuxCal, Booked, Brushtail and several other hosted calendars. However, you can bet that the majority of questions they receive don't have anything to do with those calendars.
So, it's possible the customer support reps at hosting companies don't actually know much about the calendars considering they don't address issues on them that frequently.
Is a Self-Hosted Calendar Readily Available Anymore?
Self-hosted calendar development has evolved over the years. Several hosts still provide this type of support and actively partner with developers to make convenient calendar modules.
However, calendar developers have moved toward supporting calendars with additional features, where the calendar is integrated into some other program. For instance, CGI Calendar, one of the more popular self-hosted calendar products, eventually stopped updating the system in 2007. It was only calendared software and nothing else.
CMS Calendars As Incentive
Some calendars such as Mambo have experienced some success by developing a content management system, not just a calendar. The calendar is still included with the CMS, but it's not advertised as the one and the only feature since users receive far more than that.
Because of this approach (an approach similar to that of Google or Apple), Mambo still produces updates and partners with hosting companies like Siteground.
So, are self-hosted calendars still relevant? Are they readily available for customers? Yes, they are definitely relevant for organizations with websites. You still have to locate the right host and hopefully, find that the host provides more of a suite (like Mambo) than a simple calendar app.
As for individuals and smaller businesses, it's hard to argue against SaaS calendars like Outlook and Google Calendar.