I’m trying out Open Atrium. http://openatrium.com/
Now in first beta, Open Atrium from Development Seed consolidates powerful project management features to Drupal in a modern, polished format.
When we first started bearing down on Drupal two years ago, about the first thing we wanted to do manage independent projects on our own www.dbdes.com site. We got reasonably far, with the ability to define clients, projects, tasks and organize blog-like discussion and documents for each. Given the state of the art two years ago in Drupal and our own priorities, we eventually shelved it in favor of a generally positive relationship with Basecamp (http://www.basecamphq.com
). Meanwhile, many of our Drupal sites required one or another set of Intranet features, and each one got delivered in customized, one-off ways.
Fast forward to summer 2009, and the Open Atrium project led by the wonderful Development Seed team (http://developmentseed.org/
) promises to provide a standard Intranet within a Drupal site. I suspect along the way, it will give Basecamp and its competitors a run for its money. Well, given that Open Atrium is open source, “run for the money” may not be the best way to express the comparison; more about that later.
So what is Open Atrium and what does it have?
- Install Open Atrium as easily as Drupal 6 generally, and then get going with it in about 5 minutes. Open Atrium has all the polish now available in Drupal 6-on-the-verge-of-Drupal 7.
- Create a group and start adding users to them. If you know Basecamp, a group might correspond to a “project.” As with a Basecamp project, you can have people from more than one company on a project. Drupal fans: Open Atrium groups rely on Drupal’s “Organic Groups” module and start with all that OG power.
- From the group dashboard, you see a snapshot of all the recent activity for the group, and each user can customize elements of his/her dashboard.
- Each group has its own group blog for discussion with comments and related documents. Anyone who uses project management software these days would probably agree that the blog format works better in a more modern way than older-style web forums or bulletin boards. And it uses the increasing popular "markdown" technique for formatting text. You can assign users with the group to take part in a discussion, with notifications going to the user by email. In the full production release, Open Atrium will also have other familiar forms of messaging.
- Each group has its own calendar of events, which aims to exchange in and out with your other calendars. Use the calendar to mark out deadlines and major project events.
- Document library, in any upload format, including the ability to compare revisions of documents.
- Each group also can have a “shoutbox,” which resembles a private group twitter space. What is a private twitter? We have experimented with Yammer (http://www.yammer.com), which you should check out if you want a cool, free, private twitter for your team. Having a group shoutbox offers the same and part of the whole Open Atrium for that group. This has great potential in itself when it reaches the full release stage.
- Case Tracker. In the case tracker, you create projects for your group, which I would say roughly correspond to Basecamp milestones, and then you add cases to them. Cases correspond to to-dos or tasks. The case feature already has the advantage of assigning multiple people to them, having start and end dates associated with each case, setting priority, notification and so on. Basecamp alternatives has features like this, and it’s great to see them in Open Atrium. And each case has full blog like discussion and the ability to attach documents.
This is a very cool start. And I expect Open Atrium to really take off. Within the Drupal community, adding Intranet and collaborative features like these has been part of the big appeal. Open Atrium offers the prospect of being able to do it in a standard way.
Open Atrium comes as an independent Drupal install—a Drupal distribution. It is not something to evaluate as an add-on set of modules to your existing Drupal site. You can download the installer package at http://openatrium.com/download
, available already in about twenty languages. (If you are interested, Lullabot has a great discussion of Drupal distributions and why Open Atrium comes that way
). Once you install it, you can continue to customize it as with Drupal generally.
Having a complete open source project management alternative is part of the larger discussion about cloud computing and hosted software. We like delegating to 47 Signals (the Basecamp publisher) all the administration of the site for all our concurrent projects. And yes, I do trust having client data secure on Basecamp. Wow, one big thing not to have to worry about!
The Basecamp API allows manipulating of any and all data they store for me. And even without that, I can regularly download all project activity in one XML file. Please note: Not project documents, but everything else. With the help of the wonderful ThickToast add-on from http://www.vb123.com/basecamp/
, I can regularly bring Basecamp activity into our internal Access-based billing system.
Yet overall, like our use of any Software-As-A-Service provider, disengaging from Basecamp would be a complicated process. Like moving out of a place you have lived in for a while, lot of stuff to take care of and fit to where you are going. And it does mean counting on some start-up company’s commitment to privacy and security.
Open Atrium allows you to host your stuff wherever you want. All your data is there in accessible MySQL tables, following Drupal standard node format. Like everything else with Drupal, you will have the choice of your own private server; hosting it on any of tons of reliable Internet Service Provider; or -- I suspect -- provided in fully managed SAAS format by Acquia or someone. For Drupal developers, taking part with Development Seed in the development project is a lot more friendly than making suggestions, say, to the Basecamp folks.
What provides more overall peace of mind I will leave as (an interesting) topic for another day.
For sure, Open Atrium is Open Source, downloadable without licensing fees. And those who involved, which I suspect we will, will have a lot of say in how the project evolves. In the first week of release of the beta version of the software, over 10,000 people downloaded it—outstanding for a brand new Open Source project. And the project has close to 2000 twitter followers.
Check it out; I know we will. I am already thinking about which upcoming project to manage from it.