Fruux: Bringing Calendar and Contacts Sync Into the 21st Century

Most of us take it for granted that our calendar and contacts are synced right along with our email. It usually just works, and there’s nothing to think about — that is, until you need to move to a new email service. If Google just decided to stop allowing Gmail data to sync outside the Gmail apps, or Microsoft decided to shut down Outlook.com, your email wouldn’t be the only thing at stake. If anything, your contacts and calendar are the most vulnerable part of that equation.

We’ve got open standards for contact and calendar syncing, so it shouldn’t be this hard to make it just work, everywhere, and then build from there to make contacts and calendars work the way they should in this interconnected age. That’s exactly what the Fruux team has attempted to accomplish, and this year, there’re far closer to that dream than the last time we looked at their service.

The Status Quo is Pretty Bad

Ever tried to move your address book or calendar from one email account to another? Getting everything moved is difficult at best, impossible at worst (literally — the only way to move contacts from Hotmail or AOL to Gmail is to save your list of contacts in print view, copy them to a spreadsheet, then upload the spreadsheet to Gmail. Not fun.).

How about multiple accounts? You can forward emails and calendars from one account to another online — I use that to keep getting emails from my ancient Hotmail and somewhat older Gmail account in my personal domain email account (that’s still on Google Apps pro, for now). But for contacts and calendars, your best bet is to figure out a way — via exports or hacks — to get everything to your new account, and leave it there. Syncing’s out of the question, unless you want to add multiple accounts to every device/app you keep synced.

Sharing contacts with anyone else is something most email services seem to have never thought of, and calendar sharing is often limited to just publishing a public version of your calendar for others to subscribe to (Google does do better on the latter, with full edit and viewing support in shared calendars). When it’s easier to share files through Dropbox or a notebook in Evernote than to share something as simple as an address book, something’s wrong. Everything else has gotten easier to share, export, and use how we want, but the very most basic data in our online lives is as inflexible as it was in the ‘90s.

Our cloud services are supposed to free us from being locked down to one device, but they’ve increasingly locked us down to one service. We’re at the whims of companies like Google that could shut down any of their sync services like they did to Reader, or that use our data to sell ads to us (or potentially spy on us). That’s gotten many to move their email to FastMail or other email services on their own domains, so they can easily move to another service if they ever need to. Sure, you can’t guarantee that any particular service won’t shut down or sell out, but if your email is on your own domain, you can sure move it to another service far easier.

Modernizing Calendar and Contact Sync

The new Fruux contacts editor

The new Fruux contacts editor

But contacts and calendars? Many of the less feature-filled paid email services don’t have full contact and calendar sync (FastMail, most notably, doesn’t offer either right now). That’s the most obvious use for Fruux, that our iPad editor James Cull called “iCloud for Everyone” in his review of the service last year. Fruux was started because its team was “utterly frustrated with the state of address book and calendar sync”, so they built a standalone online contacts and calendar sync system — one that’s built from their popular sabre/dav project, an open-source WebDAV/CardDAV/CalDAV framework. You connect your apps and devices, and your data stays in sync through Fruux. It’s simple — but then, it’s a hard sale when most of us already rely on Google and other email providers for the very same service for free.

But what if Fruux could sync your contacts from your existing services as well as your devices, and then make them simple to share with everyone? That’s what Fruux has added to their service this year. It’s currently in private beta, but very soon every Fruux user will be able to easily sync their Google Contacts with Fruux to give you an easy way to move services — and a way to protect your data even if you still want to just use Gmail to be easy. You can also now edit your contacts online, making it the perfect online contacts counterpart for email services like FastMail. The web app for editing contacts is in beta, but it already includes options to add practically everything you could think of to your contact info, including IM names and social media profiles. And it’s only the start: Fruux plans to make their site the place not only to sync your calendar and contacts, but also the place for you to actually use them online.

Sharing all your PIM data is simple.

Sharing all your PIM data is simple.

Sharing is the other half of the story, the kicker that really makes Fruux more interesting than just using Gmail for your syncing. And it’s as simple as you’d expect: you can share each of your address books, calendars, and calendar todo lists with anyone just by entering their email and picking if you want them to have view only or view and edit ability. Add your whole team to one shared address book, and you’ve got the simplest way to make sure everyone in your company has everyone else’s up-to-date contact info without needing a fancy new app. Just editing your contacts or calendar from any of your apps or devices will update it for everyone.

Throw Fruux into your services mix, and you’ve enterprise-class PIM without any expensive, complex new services. It’s free for syncing with 2 devices, €4/month for unlimited individual use, and starts at €20/month for teams — not bad either way, especially since using it will take no new training for anyone. It just works with the stuff you already have. It still could shut down, just like Gmail could — but your data will be open and easy to use everywhere or already synced with your other services, so you’ll be good either way.

It’s really not iCloud for everyone — it’s Dropbox for your PIM data, the place to store the data and sync it with any device or service you need. And that’s something we’ve needed for a long time.


Summary

The standalone contacts and calendar syncing now lets you manage contacts online and sync them with all your apps, devices, and even other services.

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