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Exchange Admin 101: Outlook's group calendars

Outlook's calendar lets you do more than set reminders to yourself. Learn how to manage events for groups and master other advanced calendar functions.

When most people think of Exchange and Outlook, they immediately tend to think of messaging. However, there is much more to Exchange than messaging. Exchange was designed to be a collaborative environment on many different levels. One of the primary collaborative features is the Exchange calendar.

The calendar lets you enter important events and set reminders to yourself, but it is also capable of doing much more.

For example, suppose for a moment that you needed to schedule an important meeting. You would need to invite the attendees, book a conference room and maybe even reserve a projector for your laptop. Outlook can accomplish all of this very easily once you have performed the initial setup.

In the above example, there are two different types of scheduled resources to deal with: the people who we are inviting to this meeting and the physical resources, such as a conference room or a laptop projector. You don't really have to do any sort of setup for the meeting attendees because Exchange automatically creates a calendar for anyone who has a mailbox. It might be handy to create a group for the people that you are planning on inviting, but this isn't a requirement.

Create a public folder

Physical resources, on the other hand, are a different story. Remember when I said that Exchange automatically creates a calendar for anyone with a mailbox? Well, you wouldn't typically have a mailbox associated with a conference room or a projector, so there is no calendar. The easiest way to create a calendar for such resources is to create a public folder. If you have lots of resources that you wish to allow schedule resources for, you could even create a folder hierarchy. For example, you could create a Conference Rooms folder and then beneath it have folders for Conference Room A, Conference Room B and so on.

To create a calendar enabled public folder that can be used to schedule a conference room or a laptop projector, open Outlook, right click on All Public Folders and then select the New Folder command from the resulting shortcut menu. When you do, Outlook will open the Create New Folder dialog box. Enter the name that you want to assign to the new folder, select the folder's location within the public folder hierarchy and select the Calendar Items option from the Folder Contains drop down list. Click OK to create the folder.

Set permissions

You now have a public folder that can be used as a scheduling resource for whatever item you have decided to name the folder after. We're not quite done yet though. We still need to set some permissions to determine who can book a conference room. (There may be some people in your company who have no business tying up a conference room.)

To set the permissions, right click on the newly created public folder and select the Properties command from the resulting shortcut menu. When you do, you will see the folder's properties sheet. Select the Permissions tab.

This tab allows you to set the permissions for the folder. There are a number of predefined roles, or you can assign a custom permissions scheme to a group or user. The permissions allow you to control who can create, read, edit and delete calendar items. You can also determine who is allowed to create sub folders. All of these permissions can be set by simply selecting the appropriate check box or by selecting a predefined role.

Book it! 

After you have set the necessary permissions, it's time to actually start booking the meeting.

You could just select a date and time from the public folder that you have just created and reserve it for your meeting, but that's not really the ideal way of getting the job done.

Think about it for a moment. If you booked a conference room for a specific time, you would then have to verify that the attendees and the projector were also available at that time. Chances are that somebody won't be. After figuring out when everyone is available, you would have to go back and reserve the conference room for the desired time, but by then that time slot could be booked up.

Fortunately, Outlook allows you to do coordinated scheduling. Before I explain how to do that, though, you need to know just a little bit more about calendar entries. When you enter an event onto a calendar, Outlook automatically marks the time slot as busy. That means that no one can schedule another event on your behalf at that time slot. However, someone could potentially take a more detailed look at your calendar to see what it is that you are busy with. For example, I was up pretty late last night, so I guarantee that Take A Nap will get put on my calendar for this afternoon. I work for myself, so I don't have a boss, but if I did, I certainly wouldn't want them to know that I was napping during that time, I would only want them to know that I was busy. I could therefore right click on the event and select the Private command from the shortcut menu to prevent anyone from checking out my nap schedule.

An event's shortcut menu has other entries as well. You can mark a time slot as free time, busy, tentative, or out that you will be out of the office. It is these various time slot designations that allow meetings to be automatically scheduled.

For demonstration purposes, let's assume that you have recently been assigned a long term project and you know that in the future you will be required to book many meetings with the same people in the same conference room. Since this is the case, you don't want to have to go through the process of setting up a meeting from scratch every time. It would be better to predefine your scheduling criteria so that you can use it on an as needed basis. To do so, click Outlook's Schedule button. Click New and you will be prompted to enter the name for the new group schedule. For our purposes, just enter Project Meetings. Click OK and you will now see a dialog box that allows you to build the schedule. Click the Add Others button and you will have a choice of adding resources from either the address book or from a public folder. This allows you to select the necessary public folders and users. Once your list is complete, click the Save and Close button.

The last step of the process is to actually book a meeting. To do so, click the Schedules button again. Make sure that the schedule that you previously created is selected and click the Open button. This will cause Outlook to display everyone's schedules.

You can now easily find a time slot that works for everyone and all resources required for the meeting. After finding this time slot, click the Make Meeting button followed by the New Appointment button. You will now be prompted to enter the meeting's details into a template. Click Save and Close and everyone's calendars will be updated to reflect the meeting and a notification will be e-mailed to each attendee.

Brien M. Posey, MCSE, is a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional for his work with Windows 2000 Server and IIS. Brien has served as the CIO for a nationwide chain of hospitals and was once in charge of IT security for Fort Knox. As a freelance technical writer he has written for Microsoft, CNET, ZDNet, TechTarget, MSD2D, Relevant Technologies and other technology companies. You can visit Brien's personal Web site at

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