Autarchy of the Private Cave

Tiny bits of bioinformatics, [web-]programming etc

    dotProject: first impressions

    2nd February 2007

    In my previous post on project management tools I stated that will try dotProject out. So I did, and here are my first impressions (mostly – what I dislike; the likes will come after some period of usage).

    First of all – I’d like to express gratitude to the dotProject developers for the good software tool. Despite anything written below, it’s a great tool!

    The drawback which annoys me the most in dotProject is the absence of DHTML calendar. In dotProject, as well as many other project management tools, you need to enter some dates – when task starts/ends, etc. dotProject uses a small pop-up window to show you the calendar (i.e., uses extra HTTP requests). To move to a different month/year you have to click-and-wait (another request) until data loads from the server. I’m absolutely sure that a DHTML calendar would be much more efficient, fast and even pleasant to work with. Use of JS doesn’t seem to be the reason for omitting DHTML calendar: there’s JS in switching tabs when creating new task.

    Except for that single (but IMHO large) drawback, the rest seems fine to me. There are lesser features I’d be glad to see, but their absence doesn’t yet drive me crazy.

    I’d say that the Gantt chart functionality behaves rather strange: from the Projects page it works fine, but from the personal Todo page it shows some error about the missing or unreadable font:

    JpGraph Error

    Font file
    “/usr/X11R6/lib/X11/fonts/truetype/arial.ttf”
    is not readable or does not exist.

    I’m unsure, but this could have been somehow included into the distro of dotProject, to ensure functioning on more systems. I’ll look into this problem, it might have a solution already.

    Update:This seems a pretty common problem, based on some searching. The reason not to include fonts is in licensing restrictions, so one has to find and upload all the necessary fonts. It’s also possible to edit the lib/jpgraph/src/jpg-config.inc file to set the path where you put all the necessary fonts – this way your “enhanced” dotProject will run even if there are no fonts installed :). I downloaded the fonts from here, and also updated to jpgraph2. However, I also had to copy arial.ttf and arialbd.ttf to manually configured fonts folder (and also two more arial*.ttf fonts), and now everything is just perfect :). This page might be useful as well.

    Calendar is fine. Well, it might include some kind of nice tooltip on hovering task lines, but this is essentially from the “bells and whistles” features. Calendar does what I’d expect from it, and that is fine.

    I like the project “complete percentile” calculation, which appears close to what I’d expect intuitively – despite the fact that new tasks are being added.

    Task logs are also pleasant to work with: when starting work on a task, I just “start” time counter in the new log entry, then stop it when done – and voila, correct time spent working is there! Both for me and clients to see :). Though more AJAX elements wouldn’t harm – e.g., adding the ability to switch to the previous task logs to find where you finished last time.

    I still have lots to discover and try in dotProject, but so far I see no reasons why I should switch to something different: dotProject is good, and does what I need from this kind of software.

    Update:I tried out BaseCamp project management from 37signals, and now realize that dotProject might be missing a very simple yet useful feature: ability to add and edit texts (please comment if you know I’m wrong). For example, for one of my projects I had to attach two documents – main idea and the envisaged business model. I could only do that with files uploaded, though a more natural way would be to have a tab with the list of text titles and with ability to edit those texts in a usual textarea. Still, basecamp seems too simple for me. It’s evidently easier to add the “text doc” module to dotProject, than to extend basecamp (which would also be against the ideology behind it).

    Update: Keith Casey, dotProject core developer, commented below on how he uses both dotProject and BaseCamp.

    Update: as it appears, one of the add-on modules to dP would be simple text messages journal/editor. Another useful pass-through add-on module would convert HTTP text links into hyperlinks automatically: filling in task log, I just had to paste in a number of reference URLs into the task log comments field, and found out that it would be convenient if they were auto-converted into clickable hyperkinks (at least for displaying). Meanwhile, I’m still discovering dP, and still didn’t use all the features it has.

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    7 Responses to “dotProject: first impressions”

    1. Adam Donnison Says:

      Thanks for the kind words, and I can clear up a few things for you.

      A DHTML calendar was used originally but we had too many browser incompatibilities with it, so we went to the less well performing but better supported HTML popup. But don’t panic, we are looking at more AJAX and DHTML in upcoming releases as this has now matured to the point that browser compatibility is no longer an issue.

      As you point out the newer versions of jpgraph don’t include fonts because of licensing issues, something that we also don’t want to get involved in. But we could probably do some things to ease this – like have a link to some of the sites you mention in the installer perhaps.

      Editing text docs could be easily made an add-on module, and module development is going to become easier as we start to build a solid module API in the development branch.

      Adam Donnison – admin and developer – dotProject

    2. chronos Says:

      Adam, thanks for sharing your thoughts/vision on the highlighted points! Meanwhile, I’m getting used to dP :)

    3. Keith Casey Says:

      Ha, looks like I’m in good company here.

      I actually use dotProject and Basecamp on a daily basis (a half dozen tabs of both open right now). And you’re correct, dP doesn’t have a nice, easy way of editting documents like that, but I think the other aspects outweigh that feature. We have some simple file versioning (no diff’ing), the ability to notify the rest of the team about documents, and of course the permissions system applies here. I talk about some of this in more detail here: http://caseysoftware.com/blog/dotproject-vs-basecamp

      Keith – Core dotProject Developer

    4. chronos Says:

      Keith, I read your post comparing dP to Basecamp. It appears to me that the functionality you use Basecamp for can be relatively easily (and without breaking the current workflow of dP, which is very important) be added (probably as a module) to dP, thus eliminating the need to use two pieces of software for basically similar things. In this connection – did you try activeCollab? (my previous post has some links and a screencast) It appears that it started from BaseCamp, but now is clearly moving towards the dP’s solid PM workflow. The project is yet young, but it might become the competitor to dP in a couple of years.

    5. Keith Casey Says:

      Chronos,

      Good point and I have considered it numerous times. I think a BC module for dotProject would be great for a variety of reasons. If nothing else, it would be an interesting way to lever some of that functionality and integrate it into a workflow much more smoothly.

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