Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board




Outlook time precision

Hopefully someone here will have an answer:

My company, which is in the financial sector, needs a calendar manager with precise alarms. We have tens (often, more than 20) interesting events per day, which we need to be alerted about 2-5 minutes in advance. The events themselves are not uniformly scattered.

We tried to use Outlook as the event editor / alert, but it often is late 5-10 minutes in popping up the alert (we did not find a deterministic way to make it happen, it just does).

The requirement might seem weird to you, but it often happens that one person has to deal with 3 interesting events happening within 15 minutes, doing other things in the meantime, so we need the alert time to be precisely when we set it.

Does anyone know how to make outlook precise in its alert time? Or any other tool that can replace it? (6 months ago, last I checked, Moz Calendar was not up to it). I wouldn't won't to develop something new just for this little thingy.

And while I'm at it, we also need multiple time zones (up to 4 simultaneously), Outlook only does two. Any idea, anyone?

He-who-would-not-be-named
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

First thought on this is that if you use Windows clients your alerting system is not going to be more precise than the PC clock and also Windows performance. What I mean is that if Windows decides not to process messages while doing something lenghty ("This program is not responding") alerts will be missed.

I take it since you are in the financial sector these events happen in some system doing trades with financial instruments. I would look into the possibility to have the trading system send alerts to clients, and not rely on the individual PC clients for notifications.

Database driven alert systems might be too complex for this task, but it all depends I guess how important these alerts are to the users.

Patrik
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Thanks. Just a clarafication:

Database driven alerts is exactly what we need, I was just hoping I can piggyback on Outlook for the database editor and the alert client; So far, this doesn't work.

Second, even the oldest PC in history, the 4.77Mhz IBM PC-g had a default clock precision of 55ms, adjustable down to ~ 1us. What I need is precision of less than a minute, which is attendable even on VCRs. But I _do_ need it to be less than a minute, which for some reason Outlook does not provide.

He-who-would-not-be-named
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

You can write an outlook addin to poll a database and create reminders, etc.  Or you can hire a consultant to do it for you ;-)

GiorgioG
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Net send?

Problem areas worth checking out:
1) Synchronization between the clients and the server
2) Outlook (I think) has settings regarding "don't bother the user until he/she has been idle for [x] minutes" - make sure these are all zeroed out.

Also consider the combination of sending an email and having a client rule automatically open the email...

Philo

Philo
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Could you create a little server based app that polles the exchange server calendar via imap, and uses the windows messenger service to send notifications to users?

Rhys Keepence
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Lotus Notes Client, Domino server.

Coward
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

While I have no solution, I can say that I don't think Notes is a good idea. As a user of Lotus Notes (it's our corporate e-mail and groupware solution) I can say that it categorically stinks for e-mail and groupware. It's UI is nothing like normal windows UIs and it's propensity to simply lock up when you try to close the program is something that our IT has simply learned to live with. This doesn't even begin to mention the number of wierd or irritating facets of the blasted Domino server itself.

No, Lotus Notes is NOT a solution - it's just a different set of problems. If the timing of the alerts is that critical (and it sounds like it is) then I'd say you probably want to write your own little client to fire them off. I don't know VB, etc, but it seems to me there ought to be some simple way for you to write this in VB - it's not that complex a task.

Michael Kohne
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I'm not sure why you wish to use Outlook to warn users of impending events. I wonder if instant messaging like Jabber wouldn't do the trick. Maybe someone has written an event manager add-on that sends messages automatically to whoever is listed for the event.

www.jabber.org

Frederic Faure
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

It sounds like, as Patrik indicated, you are suffering from the PC clock.  While some events may be held up by the "not responding" most often triggers are held in check by "send message at 06:00 a.m."  When "06:00 a.m." is, depends on what time your machine believes it is now.  Try looking at some of these options.

http://www.google.com/search?sourceid=navclient&q=Clock+Sync+Software

We use atomic clock for windows desktops, and it syncs once, each reboot.  However, it does require you to have an internet connection.  There is also the NIST server at http://www.boulder.nist.gov/timefreq/service/its.htm
it supports a large range of platforms.

Try these first, they are the least expensive approach.  Remember to sync the server that is creating the messages.

After that, I like the jabber.org option.  It sounds like you are trying to broadcast and an interface between jabber and the DB would seem a trival exercise, left to the reader... ;-)  Ok, not really, but it would be as robust as you make it.

Mike Gamerland
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Outlook sucks.

Caveman
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Outlook is notorious for sending alerts whenever it wants to. It's not the PC clock.

I don't know of any plug-ins since I don't care, but you certainly could write your own alert tool which read the calendar info, and ran its own alerts on a timer. IM works on the server side too.

Funny true story: I was at a presentation by a high level Microsoft exec. His pager went off. He looked at it, and commented that it was his schedule for the day, which should have been sent early that morning... pre-Outlook and a custom extension, but it sure sounds familiar.

mb
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

> Outlook is notorious for sending alerts whenever it wants
> to.

This is my experience, too.

Occasionally, when I setup an alarm in Outlook, it doesn't fire at the appointed time, but fires the first time I access the Outlook Calendar view *after* the appointed time.

Paulo Caetano
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

BTW, look for addins on slipstick.com. it's a great site for outlook and exchange issues.
(also s/don't care/don't need myself/ above).

mb
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

I wouldn't advise using VB to write anythng that requires accurate timing. Becaiuse VB gives you no control over threading you can find that alerts end up waiting for nearly everything else to finish. And if you have two things that depend on a timer it very often happens that the thing that should happen first is put into wait mode until the thing that should be happening next is completed.

I suspect that something like that is the fault with Outlook.

Stephen Jones
Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Thanks, everyone.

The problem is not the precision of PC interrupts, or the clock setting (it is NTP synched) - it's Outlook, the reason probably being something like Stephen Jones noted above.

Looks like it's gonna be home made after all.

Just one more take about this-kind-of-stuff: I think if you already have to code (or script) something yourself, things like "net send" are a horrible idea. Opening a decent dialog box with a decent sound is perhaps 5 times more code, but it's a 5-line vs. a 1-liner, so I think it's worth it.

And it's not like the "net send" line is the majority of the code that has to be written.

He-who-would-not-be-named
Thursday, June 26, 2003

Well, I still think "net send" is a good idea, because the client for it is always installed on the computer. If your user closes the client of your custom-built app, he'll lose the reminder functionality.
Or is this something that's client-only? Will you want the abitlity to CRUD (create/read/update/delete) each other's appointments?

Yves
Friday, June 27, 2003

Linux.  Cron.  X Windows.

JB
Tuesday, April 13, 2004

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home