Microsoft Project 1.0 for Windows (my very first InfoWorld review assignment, by the way) didn't score high. In fact, during the late 1980's Scitor's Project Scheduler – with its speed, usability, and accurate scheduling – consistently won our project management shootouts. Fast forward 20 years. Like other Microsoft Office applications that underwent extensive rework, Project is now a desktop fixture. Plus, it connects to the formidable Microsoft Project Server 2007. As a result, many early desktop project managers have disappeared.
Well, not entirely. Key Scitor staff moved on to form Projity, keeping alive their scheduling engine in the form of Project-ON-Demand (a $19.99 per month SaaS application that also integrates with Salesforce.com) and the open source OpenProj application. It's particularly timely, with more enterprises considering open source, to see how OpenProj compares to commercial offerings.
I tested OpenProj Beta 4 (a Java application) under Windows XP and found generally stable software with extensive project scheduling and resource management capabilities. Compared to Microsoft Project, OpenProj is miniscule (less than 10MB to download, not counting the Java runtime software) and it runs fast. Without errors, I opened a 500-task Microsoft Project file in OpenProj, which then recalculated the schedule in less than one second on my aging single-core-processor laptop.
Like high-end project management applications, OpenProj doesn't hold back on the type of data you can enter. Besides handling standard budget information, I customized OpenProj to compare up to ten variations of my plan and compute many important metrics, such as remaining cost and project duration.
One aspect of project management that's sometimes hard to fathom is resources, which OpenProj does a great job demystifying. After easily creating a list of staff members and assigning them to different tasks, I displayed a resource chart to see where people were working over their limits. Then, by interactively adjusting the timeline, I reallocated people so assignments fit within their available hours. OpenProj also does an excellent job of automatically leveling resources, finding the best fit so resources are neither over-worked nor standing idle.
I didn't find any significant feature gaps. Displays and reports can be filtered and sorted in many ways. For instance, I limited the Gantt chart to only over-budget items. Moreover, context-sensitive menus appear as you right-click in expected places – which let me quickly change formatting and other display options. Yet, as you expect with beta software, there's still cleanup coding to do: Sometimes when I zoomed or resized panes, text didn't display properly.
Overall, OpenProj performs all the essential tasks you'd do with a desktop project management application. That, and cross-platform availability, would justify Projity charging even a portion of Microsoft Project's $999 price tag. But with OpenProj's free access, it's just one more compelling case for going open source on the desktop.
Availability: Open beta download; final release date to be announced
Platforms: Linux, Unix, Mac OS X, and Windows
Verdict: OpenProj, an excellent open source desktop alternative to Microsoft Project, reads native Project files while providing an especially precise scheduling engine. The OpenProj solution has essential project management tools, including Gantt Charts, Network Diagrams (PERT Charts), WBS and RBS charts, Earned Value costing – all surrounded by a customized user interface.