Trying to find dates and times for meetings and events for a group of people is a difficult task. The built-in tools in Outlook running against a Microsoft Exchange Server is one of the industry’s best solutions, but works only for teams where all members store calendar information within linked domains (within a single company). Users of Microsoft Exchange with an Outlook client can easily view the free-busy times for others in the company, and thus more easily select a time for a meeting where most or all of the required participants are available. Below is a screen shot of a representative meeting schedule view from Outlook. The busy times for each invitee are shown as blue bars.
Microsoft attempted to address the problem of free-busy sharing with people outside a company by creating a public free-busy sharing service. This was a Web server where Outlook would save a copy of each person’s iCalendar (iCAL) formatted free-busy information gleaned from their personal calendars. Anyone who had access permission could see the busy and available times in their calendar exactly as if the person had an account on their company’s Exchange e-mail server. Unfortunately, Microsoft decided to pull the plug on that service in 2004. You can still use Outlook to publish to other places, but this takes a great deal of work to setup and maintain.
Another option that is less automatic, but works for anyone, is one of the free Web-based meeting arranger services. Meet-O-Matic is one such service that bills itself as the simplest available.