Microsoft

Five free Microsoft Project alternatives

If you're supporting a small organization with an even smaller budget, consider one of these free software management solutions.

Poor planning is the root of most project failures and interestingly, the smaller the project, the less scrutiny the plan gets! If you're managing projects, execution will benefit from tight tracking. Unfortunately, proprietary software is usually expensive or ransomed via subscription fees.

If you're supporting a small organization with an even smaller budget, consider one of these free software management solutions. At the end, you'll find a short list of feature comparisons (Table A). All five are desktop applications for Windows, although some are compatible with Mac OS and Linux. Be sure to read all licensing agreements to make sure you meet all requirements.

This article is also available as TechRepublic Screenshot Gallery.

Five Apps

1: ProjectLibre

ProjectLibre (previously known as OpenProj) is open source project management software that openly bills itself as a replacement for MS Project. (Cheeky!) It's compatible with MS Project 2003, 2007, and 2010, and Linux, MacOS, and Windows, so it covers almost everybody. It also supports several languages.

Figure A shows its similarities to MS Project. Creating dependencies and resources is easy and intuitive (mostly). Whether you're input or interface oriented, you'll find projects easy to set up and maintain. Gantt view calculates and displays your project's path visually by default. Durations and task dependencies work as expected and for the most part, finding the options you use most will be easy.

Figure A

a702FigA.JPG

Enter a project's tasks in WBS view.

You can easily print or preview this window and you can print to a PDF file, but you'll probably rely more on Reports view, shown in Figure B. The defaults are reasonable and easily customized. The result is low-frills reporting that you can use to document your project or share with others.

Figure B

b702FigB.JPG

Simple reports are easy to customize.

This program lives up to its hype. Its only negative is its lack of user documentation, but it does have an active online community.

2: GanttProject

GanttProject's claim to fame is simplicity and if you specify during installation, as shown in Figure C, it will open MS Project files. It's free and supports versions for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Customizing Gantt view, shown in Figure D isn't as easy as it could be, but it's easy enough. Dependencies are easy to create and display, similar to MS Project and ProjectLibre. Its reporting options are impressive, but it doesn't support costing features.

Figure C

c702FigC.JPG

Open MS Project files with GanttProject.

Figure D

d702FigD.JPG

Gantt view displays a list of tasks and their details.

3: ToDoList

For simplified and flexible task management, ToDoList can't be beat. It's not a full-blown project management application, but it's perfect for keeping smaller projects on task. Figure E shows the main window where you'll enter tasks. You can add and delete options, to suit your working needs. Calendar view, shown in Figure F offers a day-by-day accounting. Using XML style sheets, you can customize reports. Online documentation isn't comprehensive, but it's a reasonable start.

Figure E

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Enter tasks in the main window.

Figure F

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View tasks in Calendar view.

4: 2-plan Project Management Software

Everything that ToDoList isn't, 2-plan Project Management Software is. It's the enterprise version you might need if your organization is larger and you juggle several projects at once. Figure G shows two projects with 2-plan's high-end perspective. It comes with a serious learning curve. Consider 2-plan for enterprise-level project management. Figure H shows the addition of a new milestone.

Figure G

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2-plan supports multiple projects.

Figure H

h702FigH.JPG

Use milestones to manage high-end tasks.

You can download a desktop version for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Windows systems also need a Java Runtime Environment. 2-plan supports English and German versions. If team members need mobile access, consider 2-plan Team, which you can use to access projects via a mobile phone.

5: Open Workbench

Open Workbench isn't as intuitive right out of the box as other offerings in this list and it's strictly a Windows app. You can create milestones, and assign tasks, resources, and dependencies. You can also track and compare budgetary allowances. It all works, but the learning curve is steeper than the others. The interface isn't friendly or as intuitive as most of us have come to expect. For instance, adding a dependency takes a bit of discovery, as you can see in Figure I. Fortunately, the interface is interactive, so you can avoid most of the menu hunting and right-clicking. You'll probably spend most of your time in Gantt Chart view, shown in Figure J.

Figure I

i702FigI.JPG

Adding a dependency requires a new dialog box.

Figure J

j702FigJ.JPG

Enter tasks and assign dependencies using Gantt Chart view.

Another difference (or advantage depending on your perspective) is its emphasis on resources rather than duration. This behavior might be just what you need. Once you're familiar with the interface, you'll find a robust set of tools. Because of the learning curve, it's best suited for larger projects, but it does offer a lot, for free. 

Table A: Feature comparison (opinion) with 1 being the lowest and 3 being the highest rating.


ProjectLibreGanttProjectToDoList2-planOpen Workbench
Tasks32223
Scheduling33223
Resources33NA22
Reports22222
Costs2NA123
RBSYesYes
NAYes
Yes
WBSYes
Yes
Plug-inYes
Yes
MS Project compatibilityYes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes



About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

18 comments
Northron
Northron

I would like to add another Free web-based project management software. As a consulatant, I use iCoordinator Free. It offers a single user free license, document management area with 1GB free space for storage, contact management, time tracking and other functionalities. You can also use the Desktop and mobile application in combination with iCoordinator free.

http://icoordinator.com/blog/Free-Project-Management-Software

Mark Rodwell
Mark Rodwell

It all sure depends on the size of a project, there still is a great differentiation between "small projects". MS Projects is surely VERY expensive and it usually works for project managers only, it won't contribute to team collaboration the way others can (you can  see a different comparison here http://www.easyprojects.net/microsoft-project-alternative/).

Brian Denten
Brian Denten

Although it is not free, WorkZone is an excellent Microsoft Project alternative for companies seeking a middle ground between simple free software and the complexity of Microsoft Project.

Jim-Bob_z
Jim-Bob_z

Please explain the meanings of the entries (including is 1 better or worse than 2, etc.) in

ProjectLibreGanttProjectToDoList2-planOpen WorkbenchTasks32223Scheduling33223Resources33NA22Reports22222Costs2NA123RBSYesYes
NAYes
Yes
WBSYes
Yes
Plug-inYes
Yes
MS Project compatibilityYes
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes
(that doesn't copy-and-paste well, but everyone gets the idea anyway)

and please add some data about the costs of the non-free versions and define the differences between the free and non-free versions.

Thanks.

Jim

samsrents
samsrents

This is very helpful. It would be great to see a similar article related to Microsoft Visio alternatives.

dingbat01
dingbat01

I hate it when these "replacement" articles miss some of the most powerful aspects of the products they are trying to replace, sure I would love a cheaper alternative to MS Project (in this instance)

But, and I mean advanced work here, where is it possible to "program" these tools like MS Project using VBA?  This is such a fundamental piece of MS Project, if the competitors can't do it, then they aren't worth it.

When doing these articles can you please look into some of the more advanced operations as well as the simple ones!

regards

RvanBaalen
RvanBaalen

Why is this list limited to desktop apps? Most web apps are full fledged competitors / alternatives to MS Project, like www.tomsplanner.com

ssharkins
ssharkins

I'm not sure I understand your question, but they're strictly personal observations. What I found easy to use, intuitive, worked as expected got a 3... I don't have any plans to review any others. 

Jim-Bob_z
Jim-Bob_z

... and please add what you mean by "supports" M$ Project files -- Import only? 2-way? And since it must be true that not _all_ elements of a M$ Project file are handled, then what major categories are not? And if one product writes a file type that another can read, can this provide a better total solution, e.g. use Product 1 for entry, save its file, and open that file in Product 2 for its "impressive" reports, and it works well because those two products handle enough of the same data elements?

Full Tao-er
Full Tao-er

@dingbat01 Most users looking for an alternative want something to help them in work, but can't justify the budget for a full-fledged project management package with scripting/programming capabilities.  You did qualify that you meant advanced work.  But, I'll bet a lot of MS Project users are like Excel/Word users who never touch a macro or VBA.  I do agree that functionality should be compared, though

gmtibi
gmtibi

@RvanBaalen  Maybe because toms planner is not a free product and this article is about free alternatives....

Jim-Bob_z
Jim-Bob_z

@RvanBaalen I agree. Maybe the list of products should have been of length 10  (or 11 -- what's magic about multiples of 5?)

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