Mountain Lion can help you do more than organize your music library, compose and receive email, and work out the complex equations necessary to design a hamster capable of sustained flight. With the aid of a bundled application, it can ensure that you know about upcoming chiropractic appointments, a favorite grandchild's birthday, or the dreaded yearly visit from a particularly long-winded cousin. That application is Calendar.

Launch Calendar (you'll find it in the Dock by default, as well as within the Applications folder at the root level of your Mac's hard drive), and you're presented with what's supposed to look like a real-world desk calendar--complete with leatherette top and bits of torn paper where pages have been ripped away.

The big picture

Calendar's design is different from what you may have seen in other Apple applications. Here's how it breaks out.

The leather bit: In most applications, this area would sport a configurable toolbar. Not so in Calendar. Unlike with traditional toolbars, you can't remove, add, or rearrange the items found here. What you see--the Calendars, Create Quick Event, Day, Week, Month, and Year buttons plus the search field--is what you get.

The Calendars list: Along the left side of the Calendar window is the Calendars list. (If you don't see it, click the Calendars button above and the list will appear.) By default you'll see two calendar entries--Work and Home--and a Birthdays calendar that appears under the Subscriptions heading. (Birthdays are pulled from any birthdays you've entered in the Contacts application.) If you've set up an iCloud account, Work and Home appear under that heading. If you haven't configured iCloud, Work and Home appear under an On My Mac heading. When you add calendars, their names will appear in this list.

The tiny month-view calendar pane: I'm sure Apple has a more elegant name for this thing, but until I learn it, tiny month-view calendar pane it will remain. As my cumbersome name implies, this is where you view the current month. The current date is highlighted in blue.

You can show more than the current month by dragging the top of this pane up. As you do, succeeding months are exposed. To quickly move to one of these other months in the calendar pane to the right, just click that month. You can also navigate through months by clicking the left- and right-pointing triangles to the side of the month's name.

The Calendar pane: Finally, where the bulk of the action takes place, the Calendar pane. What you see here depends on which view is selected in the leather bit above. Let's discuss those views now.

Calendar views

Calendar allows you to focus your view in the four obvious ways--Day, Week, Month, and Year--but each view has different elements. They are:

Day view (Command-1): Day view is split into two broad areas. In the left side of the view you see the date, day, month, and year. To the right is that month's calendar with the date highlighted in blue. You can quickly choose another date in that month by clicking it. Below is a list of events scheduled for that day.

To the right is a list where the day is broken into half-hour increments, with the hours from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. in white and the other, nonwork hours shown in a light gray. Any events will be shown here as a colored bar, complete with the event's name. The color of the bar conforms to the color assigned to a particular calendar. So, by default, events connected to your Home calendar are blue and work events are green. All-day events appear as colored bars in the All-Day Events area at the top of this list. If you're viewing the current day's calendar, you'll see a small red pin-like object that indicates the current time. This is to help prevent you from creating events for times that have already passed.

If events overlap--say you have a meeting on your work calendar from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. and your Home calendar tells you that your daughter has a soccer game from 1:30 p.m. to 3 p.m.--the events will share the same space and will also be slightly offset so that you can see that there are multiple events scheduled for this time. Additionally, the selected event is slightly transparent so that you can view the event underneath it more clearly.

Week view (Command-2): Week view runs, by default, from Sunday to Saturday. Again, you see events denoted by colored bars that reflect the color of the calendar they're part of. Above the events are the dates for that week: April 14 -- 20, 2013, for example.

Although this view lacks the small monthly calendar found in Day view, you can use the tiny month-view calendar pane for this same purpose. To navigate to another week just click on it in this small calendar.

Calendar's Week View

Month view (Command-3): Yes, as you've likely surmised, this is your month calendar. The current day is highlighted and events appear as bars on each day. There's a subtle difference between limited events--1 p.m. to 2 p.m., for example--and all-day events. All-day events appear at the top of the date and bear a colored bar. Limited events lack the bar and appear below all-day events. In each case, a small colored dot appears next to each event. As with other views, the color of these dots is associated with their host calendar.

Year view (Command-4): Click the Year button and you're presented with an overview of the year. Dates that bear events are highlighted, as is the current date. Click one of these highlights, and a small window appears that provides the name and time of the day's events. If you double-click a date in Year view, you're transported to Month view, with the idea that you'll use the view to create an event.

Regardless of which view you're enjoying, you'll see a Today button at the top right that, when clicked, transports you to the current day, regardless of the day, week, month, or year you're looking at. Back and Forward buttons are found on either side. When you're in Day view, they move you one day back or ahead. In Week view, a week back or ahead. You can probably guess what happens when you employ these buttons when in Month and Year views.

Creating calendars

Though Home and Work may cover much of your life, you'll undoubtedly wish to create more-specific calendars. For instance, a performance calendar for your dad band or a schedule for your kid's jai alai team.

Adding calendars is a little confusing. The command is simple enough--just choose File > New Calendar. But if you've configured your Mac with an iCloud account, your only option is to create a new calendar in iCloud. What if you want to create it on just your Mac? (Because, for example, you don't want it to be shared with your iOS devices.) There's a trick to doing this.

Choose Calendar > Preferences and then click the Accounts tab. Select your iCloud account in the list, disable the Enable This Account checkbox, and close the window. When you now choose File > Calendar, no iCloud entry will appear. Create a new calendar, and it will appear under a newly created On My Mac heading. You can now return to the Accounts preference and enable your iCloud account. When you do, you'll find that when creating a new calendar you have the option to choose either iCloud or On My Mac.

Creating events

You now know the lay of the land (not to mention, what day it is). Let's do something practical and create an event.

There are a couple of ways to do this. The old-fashioned way is--in Day or Week view--to click and drag on a time in the events list. A colored bar appears that bears the New Event name. Just resize the event so that it covers the event's time. In the case of an all-day event, double-click in this area to create the event.

In Month view you double-click on a date to create an event. By default this will be an all-day event and, as with other events you create, be called New Event. As I mentioned earlier, when you double-click a date in Year view, Month view opens, where you can again create the event.

But again, that's the old-fashioned way. Apple would prefer that you instead click the Create Quick Event button (the one that shows a plus sign), choose File > New Event, or press Command-N. This exposes the event field. Into it enter some of the details of your event--"Meet Galahad at 3 on Friday for coffee," for example. In Day, Month, or Week view, you'll be taken to the date of the event and an Edit window will appear, where you can configure the event. (I'll describe how to do this shortly.) The words you enter appear as the name of the event.

Note that I used a couple of shortcuts in this example. I didn't have to tell Calendar the date of the event, nor did I have to specify 3 p.m. It's smart enough to know that I mean the next Friday and that 3 is going to be p.m. rather than a.m.

Calendar can be smarter still. If I were to enter "Galahad lunch Friday," Calendar would create that event on Friday at noon. Substitute dinner for lunch and the event is created for 8 p.m. Breakfast events are automatically scheduled for 9 a.m.

And, of course, you can be more specific. Enter "Meeting Arthur 10 AM 5/16," and a 10 a.m. meeting on May 16 will be created.

If you'd like to move an event to a different day, just drag it to that day. And you can make copies of events by holding down the Option key and then dragging the event to the day you'd like to add. The original event will remain, and the copy will be put in place.

Configuring events

If all you could do with Calendar was scribble down events, you'd be just as well served by a paper calendar (with real leatherette). But Calendar does far more--and it does much of that within the Event Edit window.

To expose the Event Edit window, create an event using the Create Quick Event field (or select an existing event and press Command-E). In the window you'll find the following elements.

Event name: Found at the top of the window, the name field is highlighted, ready for you to edit. It's prehighlighted because the text you enter in the Create Quick Event field isn't always as descriptive as you'd like it to be. Just type in new text and press Return, and the event's name will change.

Location: "Let's see, was that Meeting Room 265A East or Meeting Room 265A West? Ah, that's right, I put 265A West in the Location field."

All-day: Enable this option, and you designate your event as taking up the entire day. You might use this for a vacation or sick day, for example.

From and To: Here is where you choose the beginning dates and times for your event. Click on a date and a small month-view calendar appears. Click on another date to quickly change the event to that day.

There's a tiny convenience hidden in the time area. Click on the time in the To area, and a small menu appears that lets you add or subtract time from the currently scheduled time in half-hour increments (up to three hours). Slick.

Repeat: If you attend the same meeting (or poker game) at the same time, week after week you'll want to familiarize yourself with the Repeat field. Click the default None entry, and from the menu you can choose how often you'd like the event to repeat--every day, every week, every month, or every year. If one of these intervals doesn't fit the situation--you want the event to repeat every two weeks on Tuesday and Thursday, for example--choose Custom and do what needs doing.

Show As: You have two options here: Busy and Free. Choose the most appropriate.

Calendar: You can choose to attach this event to any calendar that appears in the Calendars list.

Alert: Your Mac can alert you to an upcoming event in a variety of ways. From the Alert menu you can choose Message, Message With Sound, Email, and Open File. When you select one of these items, one or more options appear below. At the very least, a time entry appears--'15 minutes before', for instance. You can choose a different interval by clicking on minutes before and choosing from the options 'hours before', 'days before', 'minutes after', 'hours after', 'days after', and 'on date'. Click on the number that precedes one of these entries to change it to something more to your liking--30 minutes rather than 15, for example.

If you choose Message With Sound, you can select the sound you'd like to hear from a sound menu. Select Email and an email menu appears where you can choose the account you'd like the alert sent to, assuming you have more than one account listed on your contact card. (We'll discuss the ins and outs of the Contacts app in a future lesson.) And when you select Open File, you can navigate to a file that you'd like to have automatically opened as an alert--a presentation you're supposed to give in 15 minutes, say, or a rendition of "Take This Job and Shove It" as a reminder that you have an appointment with HR in half an hour.

Invitees: Countless studies show that meetings are most effective when attended by more than one person, and that's why the Invitees item exists. To add someone in your list of contacts, just start typing their name. A list of suggestions will appear. From this list choose the person you'd like to add. If the person you want to invite isn't in your contacts, just enter the complete email address. You can then choose to add them by clicking the small triangle at the end of the address and choosing Add to Contacts.

When you add invitees, you'll notice that a Send button appears at the bottom of the window. This indicates that those you've added to the event will be notified by email. Click Send, and an invitation will wing its way to them. This invitiation includes the information you've added in this window, including the items I describe below. When the invitation is received, your invitees will have the option to click Accept, Decline, or Maybe buttons.

Attachments: If you attach documents to your event, they will also be sent to your invitees.

URL: You can attach Web links to your event. This might include a link to a Google map to show invitees where a meeting will be held; or it could be a link to the webinar you'll be presenting.

Notes: The Notes field serves to provide additional information about the event. For instance, if the event is for your eyes only, you might add a couple of notes about a client's personal interests--"Hey, Bob, how about them Brewers, eh?" And if you're sending the event to a group of people, you can use this field to provide more details about what will happen at the event (which might motivate them to attend).

There's more to be said about Calendar--subscribing to public calendars, sharing your calendars with others, and using other calendar services. We'll get to all of these things in the next lesson.

Next week: Working with shared calendars

See also:

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Replacing Messages: Three alternative apps for iOS messaging

Apple keeps patching Java on OS X Snow Leopard after proposed drop-dead date

10 hot social media startups to watch

Podcast: Apple conferences big and small