Since giving up activeCollab, my project management system for the past decade or so, I’ve been on the prowl for something to replace it. I don’t really need a bug tracker or SVN but I do need to be able to get ideas and files before the client, and obtain feedback from that client, all in a meaningful and easy to understand way.
I had heard about Collabtive some years back, right around the time I started using PHP Collab, and then switched to Project Pier, which them morphed into activeCollab.
So when I saw it as one of the options under Project Management in my Softaculous software installer on cPanel. I decided to give it another chance. Setup was automatic and once I logged in, I was taken to the dashboard, where you can get an overview of everything that’s going on.
But of course, first you have to set up your projects, milestones, and tasks. And users of course.
Some of the way things operate didn’t seem obvious or apparent. For example, I was used to setting up a “company” as a client, and then beneath that, a user or users.
In Collabtive, it is a multi-step process: You set up “customers,” then set up users, and then attach the user and the customer to the project(s). Customers and users can see only the projects to which they’ve been assigned, which is as it should be.
Take Messages for example. There is a tab where you can create messages and, handily, add attachments to those messages. Messages here function like “discussions” in other PM software; they are basically the same thing. However, you don’t view any of those messages in the Messages tab; for that you must go to the project and milestone to which they are attached and view them there. However, the program does, if you have set up your email properly, notify the users specified of the existence of a new message.
If you know a thing or two about CSS and Smarty, you can do some customization. Just copy the /standard directory and all its sub-folders and files to a new directory and hack away.
Collabtive ships with its default theme, which is dark and for some, not easy to read. So there are two other skins to choose from, Spring and Winter. But as you can see, I decided to modify the stylesheet a bit to introduce my own color scheme, and added some footer text to the
footer.tpl template to further customize it.
I created a sub-folder /pixelita, and copied all the files from the /standard sub-folder and performed surgery on those files. That sub-folder now appears as a dropdown choice under “Template” in the System Administration panel.
And here is the result of my customization of the footer template.
There are some plugins available to further enhance the program. I purchased the Projects Template, so that I could configure a suite of standard projects to save time when setting up new projects. I also purchased the Comments on Tasks plugin that allows you to comment on tasks, not just milestones and projects. Each plugin was 39 Euros which translates to about $42 USD apiece.
While there isn’t a lot of online documentation for this program, and the forum doesn’t appear to be active at all, the developers themselves, a husband and wife team from Germany, are extremely responsive.
I had a question about the Comments on Tasks plugin, which didn’t appear to want to work for me. I emailed them on Saturday wand within an hour, both had replied to my email, with helpful screen shots of how to access those comments.
Because the focus of our web design offerings now includes site maintenance, we needed something a bit more robust that would handle tickets without the necessity of creating a project to deal with it.
But if you are looking for an open source and very low-cost solution to your project management needs, please give Collabtive a try.
Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with a few more screen shots of the program in action.
Joni Mueller has been designing web sites for hire since 2003, when she first blew up her web host’s server by insisting on running Greymatter. Since then, Joni has designed for Blogger and Movable Type, TextPattern, WordPress and CMS Made Simple. She lives with her cat and shoe collection in a bucolic old section of Houston called Idylwood. For some strange reason, Joni likes to refer to herself in the third person. When she’s not working on web design, she’s ordering lawyers around. And blogging about it. Or both.