Project management is challenging, because even a simple project has a fair bit of complexity including to-do lists, milestones, status updates, scheduling, sharing documents. Some small businesses get by with email, spreadsheets and conference calls. If you're looking for something a little more sophisticated, more organized, and centralized, take a look at the Collabtive project management program.
Why choose Collabtive when there are dozens of software project managers? Some of the more popular ones are Microsoft Project, Basecamp, Oracle Primavera, Zoho, and Eclipse. Some are hosted services, some run from your own server, and some offer both options.
A lot of project management software programs throw in every possible feature and bit of functionality (Project, Zoho, Primavera), and have a steep learning curve. Project management software won't do you much good if it intimidates your users to the point where they don't use it.
Figure 1: The Collabtive dashboard shows all of your projects and statuses at a glance.
Collabtive has a useful feature set, and is easy to use. You have the option to install it on your own server, or to take advantage of multiple hosted options if you would rather not maintain your own server. Because it is Web-based, you and your employees need only a Web browser to use it. Some of Collabtive's features include:
- Shared calendars
- Shared files
- Tasks and to-do lists
- User groups and roles
- Multiple languages
- Unlimited projects
- User profiles
- Plugins for additional features
Take a look and see how it works at Collabtive's live demo.
3 Ways to get Collabtive
Collabtive is written in the cross-platform PHP5 programming language, which means you can install it on any Web server on any operating system. You can download it for free, and install it on Windows Server, Linux, Mac OS X, and any Unix operating system. It's an easy task for a computer guru of average skills, so if you elect to hire help to set it up, that person doesn't need to be super-elite.
Open Dynamics, the parent company of Collabtive, offers complete support services, and will install and set it up on your own server for 39€, which is about $50 U.S. It also offers a range of hosted services at different prices, support services, and custom programming.
Another option, if you use a Web-hosting service, is to use one that offers Collabtive, or will add it for you. It's free, so most Web hosts will add the software for no extra charge, just like they do with the myriad other free open source software packages they provide for customers, and then charge for any optional support services you might want.
Collabtive User Roles
Setting up users is key to keeping things somewhat under control. There are three default categories of users: Client, User, and Admin. As you can see in Figure 2, you can configure each role with different privileges. By default the Client role has no privileges at all, so users classified as Clients can only read your project pages. They cannot create or reply to messages, or add new items of any kind.
This might be useful when you want staffers who are not part of your projects to follow along and track the progress of the project. Of course you may tweak the Client permissions however you like and add privileges. But before you do that, take a look at the User role.
Figure 2: User roles give different privileges to different users.
The default User permissions allow creating, editing, and deleting new items. It also allows participating in discussions. I think it's best to let other people do the work, and the User role can do almost everything except Admin tasks.
The Admin role includes access to all privileges and can configure the server, create and remove users, and it provides master control over everything.
In most cases it's not necessary to micro-manage users, but the user management panel gives you enough control to rein in problem users. You can even create custom roles with special privileges for anyone who needs special restrictions.
For example, you might have a user who insists on uploading videos of their cute kitties and puppies, so you can take away their file-uploading privileges. Or you might have a grumpy user who likes to delete files and messages that he finds objectionable, so you can take away his deletion privileges. The Dashboard for each project includes an Activity Log, so you can always see who did what.
The one role you need to be careful with is the Admin, because Admins can do anything. Don't make people Admins unless they really need to be.
Another nice aspect of the way Collabtive manages user roles: You can let your staff setup and run their own projects, without pestering you for every little thing.
File sharing is vital to practically everything these days, and Collabtive makes it super-easy to upload, organize, and share files. You can create directories and sub-directories, and you can control who has access to them (Figure 3).
Figure 3: Collabtive simplifies file sharing.
It's also super-easy to download copies of files or entire directories. To copy a single file from Collabtive to your computer, you simply right-click on it and select Save link as... from your browser's right-click menu.
If you want to download an entire folder of documents, hover your cursor over the folderuntil you see a little floppy disk icon at the upper-left of the folder. Click that disk icon, and Collabtive automatically creates a zip archive and downloads it to your computer.
There is a bit of tricky business about the maximum file sizes that you can upload. The Collabtive upload window on my system says "Maximum size: 8MB." But this is not a true value, and I don't know why it's even there, because the real limit is 2MB.
Collabtive itself has no limit; this limit is set in a PHP5 configuration file called php.ini. A post in the Collabtive forums, entitled "How to upload larger files," tells how to set file upload size limits. It would be lovely to have a graphical configuration tool in Collabtive, but there are many variations in how Web servers are set up, so it's probably not practical to try to create one.
Collabtive includes a manual time tracker on the first tab of every project (Figure 4). Users have to enter the start and stop time and any relevant comments. Then Collabtive adds it to the Timetracker reporting tab, where you can view all time reports.
Figure 4: Collabtive's comes with a free, manual time tracker.
If you really need a time tracker, you should consider purchasing the automatic Time Tracker plugin for 29€/$38 US. This automatically records all user activity, and you can stop and start it with a single button click.
Support for Collabtive
The best source of free help is the Collabtive forums. The best Linux server installation guide I have found is Jack Wallen's Efficient Project Management with Web-based Collabtive, and Collabtive: A Free Open Source Project Management Software is a good how-to for Windows users.
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