Below is a "blogged version" of a recently finished Product Evaluation Insight for OpenProj. As a background, Insight documents are the result of a hands-on evaluation of an open source software product. At Entiva, installing, configuring and actually using software is key to our research/analysis methodology. The goal is to inject added depth to our perspective as analysts and thereby prevent the regurgitation of marketing bullet points and product literature. In my personal experience, becoming an actual user is the best way to shed any pretense of expertise.
Disclaimer: Typically the evaluation of an open source product's beta version isn't relevant for very long, but I ignored convention for OpenProj based on the ripple it generated after its initial beta release and personal curiosity about it. Of course, the day after we completed the insight, OpenProj Beta 6 was released.
Projity introduced the Beta version of OpenProj, the desktop version of its project management software in August 2007. Positioned as an open source software alternative to Microsoft Project, OpenProj currently lacks feature completeness and maturity as a beta version but displays potential substantial potential to improve. As a standalone desktop application, OpenProj is not yet ready to compete head-to-head with Microsoft Office, and must continue to work towards meeting the basic needs of the average professional user.
The glaring lack of a freely available project management product has shifted attention to the open source software arena. Microsoft Project is what amounts to an industry benchmark for project management software. Its position has established the proprietary .mpp file format as a de-facto standard for project management applications. Prospective competitors and/or alternatives must learn to cope with this reality or risk being relegated to the margins. Thus far, this sparse crowd of alternatives has failed to meet the rising demand for a cost-effective and feature equivalent replacement for Microsoft Project. OpenProj is the newest such contender but the first open source offering to materialize as a complete, standalone product.
In this Product Evaluation Insight, OpenProj Beta 5 the desktop project management software released by Projity is reviewed. Available under the Common Public Attribution License (CPL) 1.0, OpenProj is capable of running on Windows, Linux, or Mac OS X. The evaluation environment was a ThinkPad T40 laptop running Windows XP Service Pack 2, equipped with a 1.5 GHz Intel Pentium M processor and 2.0 GB of RAM. The product was evaluated for an approximate total of 23 hours over the course of 6 days.
The Java-based OpenProj featured an interface familiar that will be familiar enough to Microsoft Project users. No user interface inconsistencies were noticeable that are sometimes present in desktop applications written in Java. The import feature worked fine, as several older and newer .mpp files were imported successfully. OpenProj ran in a fully standalone mode as a single executable with no external application dependencies. A simple project was created easily, there was even a helpful dialog that prompts if you want to either open or create a new project after application startup. OpenProj supports tasks, resources and making connections between the two. Plus, traditional key combinations are also supported like Ctrl+S (save), Ctrl+O (open file).
Not to be confused with Microsoft Project at this point in its lifecycle, OpenProj Beta 5 provides the bare necessities for basic project management tasks and utilities. The application keeps overhead to a minimum with a feature baseline that does no more or less than advertised. It follows that OpenProj boasts a clean user experience with core functionality that will appeal to users looking for a lightweight option.
OpenProj featured a clean and easy installation process starting with a native Windows installation file that was a mere 6.13MB. The install wizard was short and transparently easy. No initial configuration was required to have the application work immediately after install. The OpenProj application required a total of 6.97 MB of disk space. Updates are checked at application startup with a yes/no dialog shown prompting to retrieve the newest version from the web.
Support for Gantt Charts, Network Diagrams (PERT Charts), WBS and RBS charts and Earned Value costing were also present. Each of which are compulsory to professional grade project management software. The complexity inherent to Microsoft Project was seemingly been stripped out and replaced with an ease of use that simplifies performing basic functions, while maintaining a parallel look-and-feel. On a related note, the OpenProj scheduling engine which is shared with Projity’s Project-On-Demand offering is comparable to, another Microsoft Project alternative, PS8 produced by Sciforma (formerly known as Scitor).
Compatibility with MS Project 2003 .xml files, which were previously handled inconsistently by a licensed version of Microsoft Project, was also demonstrated. A respectable set of working menu options were also provided using the right-click mouse button. Multiple window resizes demonstrated no ill effects on the composition or performance of the user interface.
OpenProj performed commendably for an open source project in beta and while Projity should be given a fair share of time to adjust shortcomings, there were several noticeable issues mostly surrounding the edit area. To start, inserting a new task caused the focus to switch to the task following the current one. There were also issues when using the copy and paste shortcut functions (Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V) with for a resource name. The same functions demonstrated the expected behavior when invoked for task names. Moreover, the DELETE key caused the entire row to be removed when only the resource name was in focus. Also missing was support for the undo function across multiple panes within the application, a particularly useful option when working on complex projects.
As a beta version, it should be expected that higher level convenience features will be missing. The following are those that OpenProj will benefit from adding:
- Better integrated support for the entire project management and delivery process.
- Reporting integration
- Task profiles
- Internal windowing for opening multiple projects within the same instance
- Enhanced filtering options
At the current moment, competing against Microsoft Project on the Windows platform is not realistic. Instead, Linux and Mac offer the OpenProj its wedge into the marketplace and all the more so considering they are positioned as a freely available open source option. Interestingly, Microsoft has had its eyes on the web and has been busy adding server-side scheduling plus the ability to create and manage projects with its Office Project Server and Project Web Access.
That being the case there is still significant room for a solution that focuses on providing light, limited features at a smaller scope of functionality that are easy to use. There also seems to be room to expand to include the notion of collaboration. However, it looks as if Projity is positioning its Project-on-Demand as a web-based offering for project teams, which might prevent them from exploring this avenue seriously.
From a competitive perspective, it will be critical to stimulate the open source community in contributing to integrating OpenProj with other related open source projects, and providing localization. OpenOffice.org, which recently garnered a commitment from IBM towards growing the project, is one such project and talks are reportedly underway towards bringing a more comprehensive open source office suite closer to reality.
However, the first line of business for OpenProj is to address outstanding issues throughout, this, the initial beta release cycle in order to set the stage for a solid 1.0 general availability version. The open source project should benefit from the added input and contribution of a formative community, but it remains to be seen just how this will translate into the development life cycle. Regardless, the current beta 5 release version counts as a solid first step in the direction of a quality open source project management alternative for which a significant number of users have been waiting.