ActiveCollab Evaluation

30 01 2008

ActiveCollab has many more features than the other simple hosted PM apps, but still remains simple to use. There are a few confusing points and inconsistencies, but if it had a free account, it might be my first choice.

ActiveCollab has a better presentation than project pier. Of the last three, I preferred ProjectPier’s visual design, and I like it’s simplicity, but ActiveCollab works more features in with only a slightly more complex UI, that’s actually a bit prettier.

ActiveCollab features (and navigation include)

  • Homepage
  • Discussions
  • Milestones
  • Files
  • Checklists
  • Calendar
  • Pages
  • Tickets
  • Time
  • People

I like the ordering of the menu elements. This seems fairly right to me, though I might move calendar up to the front by milestones.
The homepage is similar to all the other apps, but I think the best of them all. It includes recent activities, but also links to assigned tasks, as well as an iCalendar feed and RSS feed of recent tasks. It also has milestone information on the front page.

This can actually be a bit much and you need to scroll down to see recent tasks — which truthfully, I don’t care about seeing that much anyway.

It also has project status including a progress bar of tasks. I like that.

Discussions are like messages. The ActiveCollab discussion and comment editor has nice rich text editing including bold, italic, underline, strikethrough, ordered and unordered lists, indentation, images, links, and some formats (headings, paragraphs, etc.) and styles (quote, important, etc.)

This is the best rich text editor I’ve seen in a web app. Maybe it’s an open source one I can use.

Discussions can be assigned a category, milestone, or tags. You can also set notifications, but this isn’t intuitive, and is somewhat clumsy, a dropdown or collapsible checklist would be nice. Apparently it allows multiple assignees. While an interesting feature, I’m not sure it’s a good practice.

The ability the create categories, and even milestones, on the fly would be nice, a la GoPlan.

Discussions can have files attached, but unlike ProjectPier, attached files don’t show up in the file list

Milestones have an annoying and superfluous field “Start on.” In my mind, a milestone *is* a date. The due date. And of course the deliverables associated with a product (or project) on that date.

Milestones can also have attached files, which again, don’t show up in the file list. I don’t think files should be attached to milestones, but they should be able to be associated some other way.

Files come with a description. Which is optional. I like that. They can be associated to a category, milestone, or tags. Also you can set notifications. For file changes, I assume.

I don’t really understand the conceptual difference between “category” and “tags” here — I don’t know if activecollab can have multiple tags, unlike project pier.

Checklists, are, I guess, task lists. I don’t know why the name difference. Especially since a checklists has a list of tasks. It also has a summary, and a rich text description.

But you can’t add tasks until after submitting the checklist. A little bit unfriendly.

A summary (or a comment) apparently has a minimum size limit. If for instance you use ‘no’ in a summary or comment, it fails silently. Failing silently is not a goPagesod idea at all.

The calendar feature is nice, but could be prettier.

Pages are confusing. Their like a wiki page. In this context, like a discussion or message. They can apparently contain a discussion – in that a description is rich text and it can have comments. They can also have tasks. And subpages. And attachments. Users can subscribe to a page. I don’t know what all gives a notification about a “page.” Probably any edit.

A page seems like a mini sub-project, only tasks aren’t associated to task lists (I mean checklists) or milestones.

I like the correlation a page provides, but isn’t that what the whole app is supposed to be providing?

Tickets are a basic issue system. They can be assigned category, milestone, priority, due date, assignees, and tags. They can include attachments. A ticket is basically a discussion with a few extra fields (priority, due date.) I don’t think it works. You’d probably want a real ticketing system, and would like integration.

Time tracking is a nice thought, but you probably are going to want to use an external tool. It’s entry is a bit confusing because there are no labels, except below on already created time entries. I’m all for keeping time tracking as simple as possible, but chances are, if you have to keep track of your time, you have to do it in a bigger and more annoying tool.

Tickets have their own mini time tracking too, which is a bit confusing. I’d think if you were trying to integrate time tracking, you’d want to associate it to tasks. Every ticket has one or more tasks associated that track time. Editing tickets, discussions, files, etc. can be calculated automatically, except if you walk away in mid-edit and come back 2 hours later.

People is the last category, but the free version of ActiveCollab only allows one person, so there’s not much to say here.

I give ActiveCollab a thumbs up for most features, but there is a bit of confusion and dissonance. Some of which can be fixed with simple descriptions, error messages, and better naming — such as calling checklists tasklists, or explaining how to add notifications and what is being notified, .

But some of the features were not so clearly thought out — or at least I don’t understand them. Pages, Tickets, and Time being the main culprits here. I’d guess because they are extra features that were bolted on without the considering (or wanting to change) the overall design.

Overall, I’d probably still use ActiveCollab if ProjectPier wasnt’ free. If it were less confusing, I’d probably shell out the money for it. I like that it can be hosted on your intranet.

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4 responses

30 01 2008
Ilija Studen

Thanks for the review. We are glad that you liked it and are committed to improve activeCollab in the future so your comments help us a lot.

Pages are tool for collaborative writing that you can use to work with your team to write various documents. That is why pages have version control, comments etc. Subtasks fit well here for complex documents or for jotting down ideas before you start working on a document.

Rich editor we use is TinyMCE. It is available here (free and open source): http://tinymce.moxiecode.com/

Ilija

30 01 2008
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30 01 2008
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30 03 2009
Jakob Persson

Ilja: TinyMCE is so annoying! Any RTE is annoying for that sake. Please make it possible to disable it and replace it with a plain textarea we can use with Markdown!

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