Some small businesses try to manage projects with a client-based application or with a simple solution such as a spreadsheet. While any project management is better than nothing, a centralized tool for this task can boost your productivity and manageability.

One such tool for this job is Collabtive, a web-based project management software that is open source and written in a combination of PHP and JavaScript. This lightweight and easy to use software comes with these features and many more:

  • Unlimited projects, milestones, tasks, and tasklists
  • Unlimited members with user profiles
  • Role-based management
  • Messaging and instant messaging
  • Reporting and notification
  • Time tracking
  • Search tags
  • Basecamp import
  • Themeable
  • Multi-language

Due to its web-based nature, Collabtive has a few requirements that a stand-alone client software won’t. Those requirements are:


  • PHP 5.1
  • MySQL 4.1 or 5.x


  • JS/DOM (tested with Mozilla Firefox 3, IE8/9, Safari, Opera 9)
  • Cookies

Installing Collabtive

The easiest route to installation success is to install Collabtive on a LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) server. And since there are no pre-packaged binaries, we’ll be installing this package from “source.” The installation is mostly done through an easy to use web-based installer.

Step 1: Download and unpack the latest build

Download the .zip file from the Collabtive page on SourceForge. After you download the file, move it to the document root of your server (I’ll be installing on a Ubuntu 11.04 server, so the document root is /var/www). Once that file is moved, create a new folder in the document root of your server called collabtive; this can be done with a command similar to sudo mkdir collabtive. Now, move the file (XXX is the release number) into the newly created folder and unpack the file with the command sudo unzip (XXX is the release number).

Step 2: Adjust permissions

  • Change file /var/www/collabtive/config/standard/config.php to have write permissions with the command sudo chmod ugo+w /var/www/collabtive/config/standard/config.php.
  • Change cirectory /var/www/collabtive/files/ to have write permissions with the command sudo chmod ugo+w /var/www/collabtive/files/.
  • Change directory /var/www/collabtive/templates_c to have write permissions with the command sudo chmod ugo+w /var/www/collabtive/templates_c.

Step 3: Create the database

Collabtive uses a MySQL database; this database can be created by using either a tool like MySQL Workbench or by running the following commands:

mysql -p
mysql> create database collabtive;
mysql> GRANT ALL ON collabtive.* TO root@localhost IDENTIFIED BY 'password';
mysql> \q

Note: ‘password’ is the actual password for the user who has permission to access the database (in my case, root).

Step 4: Run the web-based installation

Open a web browser and point it to http://ADDRESS_OF_SERVER/collabtive/install.php. The first page you see will let you know if you have all the necessary requirements. Figure A displays an install I ran prior to setting up the right permissions (for the purposes of this example). You see two pending issues that must be resolved before the installation can continue.
Figure A

After resolving the issues, refresh the page and the main installation page will appear (Figure B).
Figure B

Fill out the database information and click the Install button at the bottom of the page. After the install completes (it’s very quick), you will be prompted to add the first user (Figure C). The Name field refers to a username, not a full name.
Figure C

This first user will act as the administrative user. Once you add it, you will be asked to log in with those credentials, and you will wind up on the Collabtive Main Page (Figure D).
Figure D

Step 5: Configure your site

Now that you’ve installed the tool, it’s time to customize your site, which includes system administration, user management, and project administration. The first thing you will want to do is click the Administration menu (top right wrench – see Figure E) and then click System Administration.
Figure E

Click the image to enlarge.

From this page you can set information about your site, import from Basecamp, and set up email account settings.

With the site settings completed, you can start creating users and projects. You now have a working project management tool to help you keep your small business running in a manageable and timely fashion.