We are, and always have been, big fans of open source software. In our daily workflow at Pelago we use various open source technologies; PHP, MySQL, PostgreSQL, Linux, Apache, Subversion, and many others. We primarily use these open source technologies in developing Intervals, our online time, task and project management software, and in designing and developing web sites and web-based applications for our clients.
When selecting online project management software for your company, not everyone wants to use a hosted pay-per-month app. Some would rather download the app and install it on their own server, taking responsibility for the IT aspects of maintaining and serving up the application. This blog post is for those people. We’ve put together this review of open source project management apps based on our experience building Intervals, along with ten years of designing and building web sites and web-based applications.
Trac is a powerful open source Python app for managing projects. We’ve used it several times in the past when working with clients who used it as their primary ticketing system. Trac’s strong points are its Wiki and Source integration. And Trac is similar to Intervals in that it treats tasks more like tickets, assigning them fields such as priority, owner, component, and milestone. Overall, web developers will find Trac a great tool to work with, as it lets them manage projects and tickets on a very granular level. Web designers and others who like their interfaces clean and less cluttered my find Trac a bit cumbersome. Trac has been around longer than most open source project management apps and has the benefit of being more established and battle tested.
Open Atrium is relatively new on the open source project management scene. However, they’ve used their status as the new app on the block to their advantage, offering a refreshing interface and more intuitive features. And by building it on top of Apache, PHP, MySQL and Drupal, they’ve given the open source community an easy and familiar code base, guaranteeing a lot of help with development. Although Open Atrium is still in beta it looks very promising. This project management software emphasizes communication and collaboration, while including a full ticketing system. Open Atrium offers a nice blend of collaboration and project management features and is a great option for those looking to replace Basecamp.
Collabtive looks like another open source project management app aiming to be a viable alternative to Basecamp (one of the key features is a Basecamp import). Collabtive is one of the more full featured open source options for project management, offering the ability to track projects, milestones, tasks and time, and rounding itself out with reporting. Just the fact that it includes so many key features for managing projects is a good reason to give it a try. The interface is nice and clean but relies too heavily on icons for navigation. Overall, it is a promising app that still has some development needing to be completed.
Redmine reminded me a lot of Trac except that Redmine is written in Ruby using the Rails framework. Redmine contains a lot of functionality geared heavily towards developers. It’s powerful but may take some getting used to. This open source project management application is ideal for developers who are familiar with Ruby and need self-hosted software written in their favorite language. The default interface is not as clean as Open Atrium or Collabtive, but the whole point of open source is that it is free and you can contribute your enhancements back to the development community.
Retrospectiva is another open source software offering that includes ticketing along with project management. It is similar to Trac in that it offers Subversion integration. What makes Retrospectiva unique is that it targets itself to the agile software development cycle. Not only does it provide the tools to carry out agile software development effectively, it also enhances the process with collaborative tools such as a Wiki and a Blog. Retrospectiva also has one of the cleaner interfaces among the project management apps built by and for web developers. Also written in Ruby, this application looks promising.
Which one of these open source project management apps is the best? That’s up to you. They are each unique in their own way and require a test run to see if they will be a good fit for your company. These open source software offerings do seem to have one thing in common. They all have some type of comprehensive ticketing system. Whether it’s under the guise of issue tracking or task management or ticketing, it’s there. That’s probably because these apps are written by web developers who understand the importance of a comprehensive task management system. If there is one thing the open source world can offer to proprietary online project management software, it’s detailed task management. And if there is one thing the open source developers can gleam from the proprietary apps, it’s the attention to detail in the user interface.
There will always be pros and cons to choosing between open source and online proprietary project management software. Should you decide to go the open source route, we hope this review will be helpful in making that decision.
As always, please feel free to comment on other open source project management apps you’ve found useful. We’d love to hear about more.