Magazine article PM Network

Open-Workbench: Microsoft Project Killer?

Magazine article PM Network

Open-Workbench: Microsoft Project Killer?

Article excerpt

This free, open-source scheduling tool is no mere marketing come-on. However, unless your enterprise has Clarity, it leaves you constrained to your desktop.

If you believe the hype coming from the respected project and portfolio management vendor Niku Corp., its decision last year to spin out its Workbench scheduling and project-management tool into a free download, modifiable by any programmer, was a noble blow against the not entirely deserved dominance of Microsoft Project.

Niku claims, in essence, that despite Microsoft's push into enterprise-class project management running on centralized servers and other groupware infrastructure, Project is predominantly a desktop tool used, they say, by solitary project managers to build schedules and crank out Gantt charts. If that's the case, why not give Workbench away, let others invest the development funds and use the freebie as an enticement for customers to try Niku's real profit center, the Clarity portfolio management suite?

The result-OpenWorkbcnch 1.1-turns out to be more than a cynical marketing ploy. It is a full-fledged basic scheduling and project-management tool with surprising depth and richness.

Free, But Not Cheap

The premiere version of OpenWorkbench, released in mid-2004, was a barely functional piece of betaware. Version 1.1, out in general availability since January, was the real debut. Besides being a fully functioning desktop project scheduler with basic project-management functions and resource management, the newest OpenWorkbench has important new features.

The user interface now adheres more closely to the standard look and feel of Microsoft Windows XP, and there's a collapsible work breakdown structure (WBS) outline, so you can view tasks at varying levels, as in Microsoft Project. You can store multiple baselines at the summary task and project levels, and you can change the attached cost data without manually changing the baselines. But the most important new feature is basic import/ export support for Microsoft Project files, albeit indirectly through extensible markup language (XML), the stillemerging Web-based standard for exchanging data among programs. Resource-billing support also is new in the upgrade.

You still need Niku's pricey Clarity if you want to use a central database to manage enterprise collaboration. Niku added a module to Clarity, called Schedule Connect, specifically to link to OpenWorkbench 1.1. It installs on both centralized servers and the desktop, adding database access to OpenWorkbench's screens. If you're not satisfied with the informal tech support of the online, open-source user community or can't find answers in the 308-page manual, you can buy a maintenance contract from Niku.

I found OpenWorkbench quite easy to use and navigate, with familiar Gantt views and task-entry and resource-assignment dialogue boxes. The same basic toolkit for daily project management that you find in Microsoft Project is all here, too. You can indicate task dependencies, for example (there are four types), and link fairly detailed resource information to them.

The multi-pane windowed interface is intuitive and customizable; you can drag and relocate buttons and entire toolbars almost anywhere on screen with a click of the mouse, and even create custom toolbars. …

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