For Contacts and iCal, Should SMBs Use Snow Leopard Server? [Macs At Work]



Does your small- or medium-sized business run on Macs? Are you a Mac IT-manager?

If so, we’ve got a new weekly feature for you: Macs at Work. Every week, we’ll answer your business-related questions, from setting up servers to running iPads in the enterprise. Macs at Work is brought to by Macuity, a Mac-focused IT consulting group located in Boston, MA.

This week, we have a question about Snow Leopard server for group calendar and contact sharing.

This is a common question we are asked fairly often these days:

For calendar and contact sharing in our office, should we be using Address Book Server and iCal Server built into Snow Leopard Server?

The answer is yes and no, depending on the client systems you have in your office. If everyone is using Snow Leopard, then great, go ahead. But if you have a mix of Macs, PCs and mobile devices, the answer isn’t so straightforward.

iCal Server, which has been packaged in OS X Server for some time, is a very robust calendaring system that has a new web interface in 10.6 and allows for push notifications to CalDAV-based desktop client applications like iCal, Sunbird and Lightning. (CalDAV is an open source Internet protocol for calendaring communication.)

Address Book Server, based on the CardDAV address book protocol, is new to Snow Leopard Server. It allows your organization to create a Global Address List that contains all of your company’s user accounts and resources. Users can then access both their personal contacts that are stored locally on their computers as well as all of the users from within the organization using the Address Book application on their Snow Leopard Mac. In addition, using a unique account, you can create and share a central company database of all of your organization’s commonly accessed contacts.

These features sound great. Where do I sign up? Well, before you do, it is important to note a few caveats here. First, you need to assess whether iCal and Address Book Server are right for you. Does your office have a mix of PCs and Macs? Do your Macs run different versions of Mac OS? Do you use mobile devices such as iPhones or BlackBerrys?

Apple’s iCal and Address Book services have some really great features and are fairly straightforward to set up, and although Snow Leopard clients work flawlessly with these services, older client operating systems do not. 10.5-based clients can access the iCal service with some additional steps, but not the Address Book service. 10.4-based clients will not be able to access either service. In addition, Windows clients will be able to connect to the services, but only when using supported CardDAV and CalDAV client applications. Microsoft Outlook does not support these open standards, but there are a handful of open source clients and plug-ins that do. They include Mulberry, OpenConnector, Mozilla Sunbird, eM Client and SOGO to name a few. As with most open source solutions however, support is limited and some applications are still in beta and can be difficult to install.

And then there are mobile devices. A couple of points about iPhone:

  • Even though you can access iCal services from an iPhone, at the moment it doesn’t properly push notifications.
  • In addition, the iPhone only supports the CardDAV protocol when your phone is running iOS 4.0. So in order to sync contacts hosted by a Snow Leopard Server over-the-air, and you have an older 3Gs, 3G, or 2G iPhone, you will need to upgrade.

Blackberrys are not compatible with CardDAV either, and can only use the iCal service when configured to connect to a third party account that has the iCal information forwarded to it. The setup is cumbersome and does not support bidirectional syncing.

So if you are a Mac-only shop and have relatively up to date Macs and iPhones, you are the perfect candidate to check out iCal and Address Book Server for your collaboration needs.

If your organization is a cross-platform environment of Macs, Windows and/or Linux machines and your mobile users need to have instant push notifications for email, calendaring and contacts, then you may want to look for other collaboration solutions to fit your needs.

We are big fans of the Kerio Connect platform, which is a very robust mail, calendar, contact solution that will run on any operating system really excels at integration with Macs. It supports a vast number of popular client applications such as Mail, iCal, Outlook, Entourage and Thunderbird as well as mobile devices such as iPhones, Blackberrys Windows Mobile and Android phones. In addition, other solutions to look at include CommuniGate Pro and Zimbra.

About Macuity: Over the years, we have been expanding from Apple’s core business-user market of marketing, creative, and design agencies to encompass a diverse business clientele including law firms, architects, PR firms, as well as businesses in the financial and pharmaceutical sectors. As such, the projects we’re asked to consult on tend to run the gamut of topics. So we thought; why not share some of our experience and knowledge with the rest of the world?

To that end, we ask you, the Cult of Mac community: Are you responsible for proposing, integrating or implementing a Mac-based IT solution, but need more detailed technical answers than Apple’s promotional materials provide? Starting next week, we’ll be hosting a regular “Ask Macuity” column here at CoM.

Consider our staff your crack R&D integration team to help provide technical solutions to get you on the right path. So, please send along your questions to, and once a week, we will pick the most interesting technical question to answer. We’ll then post the question and our answer here on the website.

We look forward to your questions!