HELPDESK BY CHAUNCEY HOLLINGSWORTH
As project managers prepare
to navigate what could be several more years of market malaise, the pressure to cut costs remains great. That's what makes open-source software so darn appealing—it's free!
Because they're developed by loose affiliations of programmers, hobbyists and tinkerers instead of big corporations, the source codes—the programmed DNA that gives the software all of its wonderful features—are “open” to the public. By contrast, when you buy proprietary software, you're paying a premium for the license. With prices sometimes as high as $999 a pop, you're talking about a serious spending spree. Software costs may actually eclipse the price of the hardware itself.
Open source can be a dream solution. It can also be a wonky, trouble-filled nightmare. When you buy software, you're also purchasing a certain amount of hand-holding and troubleshooting (theoretically, at least—brave are the souls who endeavor to call tech support). With open source, you're on your own. Though some software makers have a wiki or build notes, there's still risk involved. The open-source tool you downloaded crashed your server? Tough luck. A data error wiped out your whole project? Too bad.
Many packages (especially the web-based ones) also require some technical savvy to install and configure. If you're an end user who wants an all-in-one solution but you're not an IT guru, you'll want to tread carefully. Out of the scores of open-source products to choose from, here are five popular project management packages:
REDMINE Redmine is a favorite among software developers for its ability to track bug issues, manage time tracking and robustly handle several projects simultaneously, with wikis and forums for each. It's not limited to software development projects, but the issues tracker seems most at home there. It allows the creation of nested subprojects, though its strongest feature is the clean and simple all-in-one interface. This gives users one-click access to everything from the project calendar and Gantt chart views to documents and the latest project news. There's also a sublime user set-up and management component with an easy-to-use, comprehensive check-box interface to control exactly who can access what. Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
FENG OFFICE Feng Office takes its predecessor, OpenGoo, and adds the paid subscription service Feng Sky (which starts at US$10 per month) and Feng Onsite (for onsite server installation). As developers explore various ways to convey massive amounts of project-related information, they'd do well to study this friendly, brightly colored web interface. The dashboard has a central calendar that takes up the top half of the window, with a customizable “workspaces” listing on the left that divides items by group and project. Users can deploy modules—tasks, notes, e-mails, calendar, contacts, documents, comments and web links—arranged around the calendar in collapsible, color-coded mini-windows akin to virtual Post-its. These, too, are customizable by group and/or project. True, it won't handle Gantt charts or detailed resource management, but the ease of use in this free online tool may seduce you for less-detailed project management needs. Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Unix
OPEN WORKBENCH You have to be pretty bold to position yourself as a direct rival of Microsoft Project. Open Workbench's home page even has a counter showing the total number of downloads and the savings versus buying Microsoft Project (almost US$320 million at press time). Indeed, it's a PC-only, desktop-deployed application with a look and feel uncannily analogous to MS Project's—that is, a joyless gray background and spreadsheet-like Windows interface. This is open source…to a point: To use a central database for multi-user project collaboration, you'll have to upgrade to CA Technology's Clarity, a paid product. Judging by the lack of functional updates in recent years, CA's support of the Open Workbench development community seems half-hearted. Platforms: PC
OPENPROJ As open-source project management solutions evolve, they tend to become the free counterparts to SaaS (software as a service) packages that require a monthly fee. Such is the case with Serena's OpenProj. As a desktop application, it's a formidable alternative to MS Project. It can open MS Project and Primavera files, but follows some of Project's annoying contrivances, such as a difficult-to-change, eight-hour-per-day/40-hour-per-week base working calendar. When was the last time you worked only 40 hours in a week? (Thought so.) Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Unix
PROJECTPIER The self-hosted application helps manage tasks, projects and teams through an online interface. It comes in two handy versions, one considered “stable,” the other a recently released beta for the more daring. Its beauty lies in its true open-source nature. Because you host the software yourself, ProjectPier isn't a gateway to a monthly paid service or a more fully realized hosted version of itself. The usual milestones, messages, tasks and files are all represented, along with automatic e-mail notifications, allowing stakeholders to stay in the loop without logging on to the site. The software stands out by allowing an unlimited number of projects, clients, users and other objects—no SaaS required. Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux, Unix
PM NETWORK SEPTEMBER 2010 WWW.PMI.ORG
SEPTEMBER 2010 PM NETWORK