Microsoft Project's expensive licensing and intimidating reputation in some circles hampers its adoption, opening the door to alternatives; the team behind ProjectLibre aims to make that alternative open source. ProjectLibre is still in beta at the time of this writing; the developer promises compatibility with Microsoft Project 2010.
Manage projects with ProjectLibreAt a basic level, ProjectLibre should look familiar to users who have had at least some exposure to Microsoft Project. Figure A shows the ProjectLibre user interface. Figure A
ProjectLibre user interface (Click the image to enlarge.)
ProjectLibre includes four tabbed ribbons: File, Task, Resource, View. While the ribbon has been a point of contention in later releases of Microsoft Office, including Microsoft Project, the ProjectLibre tabs don't consume much user interface real estate.The File tab includes general file management features such as Open, Save, Print, Preview, and Output To PDF. There is no better proof of the ProjectLibre development team's attention to detail and quest for Microsoft Project 2010 parity than when you dig into the Project tools on the File menu tab. From there, you have access to Project information and other features like a working calendar and project baseline management. Figure B shows an example of the Project Information dialog box. Figure B
ProjectLibre's Project Information dialog box (Click the image to enlarge.)The quest for Microsoft Project parity also shows in the Task tab with views including Gantt, Network, Work Breakdown Structure (Figure C), and Task Usage. Changing project views is easy, and the application renders the new view without hesitation. You can also insert and delete tasks in your project schedule. You can also save and clear project baselines from the Task section. The features under this tab are responsive and easy to use with no issues seen in rendering new views over a project schedule. Figure C
A Work Breakdown Structure in ProjectLibre (Click the image to enlarge.)Resource management can be a fine art when it comes to project teams, and ProjectLibre lets you create a Resource Breakdown Structure and view resource usage across a project. Figure D is an example of a Project Usage view. Figure D
Resource usage view in ProjectLibre (Click the image to enlarge.)
The ProjectLibre View tab is a central point of access for all the available views and sub-views over project schedules. The development team's work on the available filters is quite complete, giving ProjectLibre users a range of filtering, sorting, and group options over Project Scheduling data.
Online help and user assistance
Project management applications are becoming even more necessary as budgets tighten and managers needs to be more accountable for project scheduling, resources, and other information. Unfortunately, outside of formally trained project managers, project management application experience can be scant, so online help and templates can be a necessity for lesser-experienced users.
Clicking Online Help takes you back to the ProjectLibre home page with not much user documentation to be found. I found the application's tips to be scant, with a design reminiscent of Windows 3.1. Documenting ProjectLibre would be an ideal project for a young technical writer seeking a volunteer project to get the experience and work samples.
ProjectLibre would also benefit from a template library to give new users a basis from which to create their project schedules. Certainly, ProjectLibre has an open source community that could donate templates for inclusion in a future release.
Data and file formats
With any project management application these days, you are going to run into requirements for getting project scheduling data out of the application and into another application. Currently, ProjectLibre lets you export schedules as Adobe Acrobat Portable Document Format (PDF), Microsoft Project 2003 XML (*.xml), and ProjectLibre (*.pod).
With or without Microsoft Project, the project management application market is crowded, and ProjectLibre has the benefit of being a very pure play project management application with the right core features. However, ProjectLibre needs an accompanying body of knowledge in the way of online help and templates to become the Microsoft Project alternative of choice for the widest potential audience.
With some more releases and additional user assistance such as online help, I can see ProjectLibre taking its rightful place as a go-to Microsoft Project alternative.
Will Kelly is a technical and marketing communications writer based in the Washington, DC area. He has written about SMB technology, data center management, project management applications, mobile computing, Microsoft Office, and productivity applications for online and print technology publications. You can reach Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.