By Eric Auchard
Google Inc. is introducing on Thursday a free Web calendar service for consumers to schedule events and share them with others, opening a new level of competition with rivals such as Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
Google Calendar, available atoffers a variety of features to make using Web calendars as easy as desktop calendars such as Outlook, allowing users to "drag and drop" events from one calendar to another.
The feature allows users to type simple commands like "leave work today at 5 p.m." or "drinks Thursday with Elinor" that the system can interpret and automatically insert into the calendar. Events can be private, shared with friends, or made public on the Web, Google Calendar's product manager said.
"Google Calendar takes all the events in my life and keeps them in one place," Carl Sjogreen said in a phone interview.
"We enable the user to create multiple calendars, share them with other people and overlay Web calendars back on the user's own calendar," the Google product manager said.
Users of Google's free e-mail service Gmail may find the Google Calendar particularly useful. Google's software scours Gmail to recognize mentions of events and then automatically offers the user to add the date information to the calendar.
PRESSING OTHERS TO INNOVATE
Details of the long-rumored calendar, complete with screenshots of features and instruction guides, had leaked out in late February among Silicon Valley technology enthusiasts.
The calendar poses a direct challenge to Yahoo Calendar, the No. 1 Web calendar service in the United States, which was introduced in 1998 and has changed little in substance in recent years. But Google said it plans to "play nice" and allow users to share Google Calendar events with Yahoo Calendar.
While Sjogreen is careful to say that Google Calendar is not designed to replace corporate calendars, it could raise expectations among office workers that its features should be part of corporate scheduling systems like Microsoft's Outlook or IBM's Lotus Notes.
Sjogreen said Google is working to offer seamless connections to Microsoft Outlook, the Palm Treo smartphone and to various other mobile phone calendars in coming months.
The trial version of Google Calendar is being offered in English. Gmail users will begin being offered the service within the next week. In coming months, Google will translate the calendar into multiple languages, Sjogreen said.
The Sunnyvale, California-based rival of Google said in a statement that the company is working on updates to Yahoo Calendar, which it plans to release in coming months.
Last year, Yahoo acquired Upcoming.org.a social event calendar that helps users manage events, share them with friends and family, and post notifications to one's own or to other Web sites.
(Additional reporting by Tom Nguyen in New York)
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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