Google is today launching a free Web calendar service for consumers, which allows them to schedule events and share them with others... kind of like Outlook on the Web, really, and mirroring similar offerings from Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp. Google Calendar offers users a range of features to make using Web calendars as easy as desktop calendars like Outlook, and enables users to create multiple calendars and share them easily.

The new service takes advantage of slick Web programming tricks using Javascript and XML along with RSS. But perhaps the biggest breakthrough is the calendar's use of "natural language processing" technology that simplifies how events are entered.

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.