An ideal project management software ideally should be Free and Open Source and have:
- Web collaboration.
- Export to multiple formats.
- Cross Platform.
- Robust enough to handle large complex projects.
- Gantt chart, Pert chart and resource linking.There are several applications that could fit the bill, but in the end, one of them shines.
Among applications that are specifically for project management, there are two standouts: dot-project which is a web-based collaborative environment based on PHP and Gantt Project a Java-based, cross platform, stand alone application.
Before we move on to the two contenders, a digression is in order to discuss the thought process. The obvious MS Project application seems like a lot of money to pay for a program that, while vital, doesn’t do that much. On a complicated project with workers widely dispersed geographically, the lowest common denominator comes into play which at first glance is simply a spreadsheet file. There are a multitude of hacked together spreadsheet bastardizations of project management. In addition to their cumbersome nature, many of them are expensive, over $100. A possible strength is that they may be easily intraconverted to other file formats, or not. There is also the likely proprietary spreadsheet application that it sits on.
Dot-project’s strength is that it is web-based and can provide a truly collaborative environment. Its weaknesses are that it seems to has serious errors that we could not fix in our installation. This greatly limited its use. As well, it did not appear to have usable export capabilities from its MySQL back-end.
Gantt-project is a robust application that provides an excellent cross-platform GUI experience. In addition, it exports to multiple formats: MS project, jpeg snapshot, pdf, html and is stored in a native XML format. The MS project export capability is attractive to management types who may want an ‘upgrade’ path. Drawbacks are that it is a single user file application that does not enable web collaboration.
For our project, we chose Gantt Project because of its export capability and the ability of multiple users to download the application free of charge and view it even though they were unlikely to actually edit the document. Had dot-project not had a serious error that we could not fix and been able to export to external formats easily, it would have been the application of choice. Gantt project is working great for the present, but web-based collaborative applications like dot-project appear to be the future. With these two FOSS project management applications, there is simply no need for a spreadsheet project management kludge.