Managing Projects with WebCollab

This undiscovered gem of an open-source project brings project status information and important project files together with one streamlined Web interface. Try it and see if it fits your work style.
Views and Navigation

The ability to navigate between views is intuitive and easy. Almost everything is a hyperlink, which, when clicked, takes you to a more in-depth view of that particular piece of data. For example, in the main view for a project, each task is represented by its title, and clicking on that title takes you to the main view for that task, complete with summary, due dates, related files and more.

Every user or group name displayed within the context of the project or task descriptions is also a link to more information about that particular user. Everything initially is represented in a shorthand view, with more information available when clicked. Although this may not seem like much, it becomes handy and makes toggling between various views a breeze. A navigation bar also is present along the left side of the screen at all times.

As is typical with project management packages, there are a variety of different views, each of which gives a slightly different perspective. When a user logs in, he or she is initially at Home Page view. This shows a listing of projects and tasks that the user is involved in with completion status and due dates. Two other key views are the To-Do List view and the Calendar view; both are self-explanatory. Again, interpreting each view is far from complex, which is not always the case with project software. All views can be filtered by both user and group and have a print view button, which displays the current screen in a more paper-friendly format.

Figure 4. The Calendar view is basic, but it provides a nice visual breakdown of what has to be done when.

Security

WebCollab is best fitted for a small or home office environment. Being a noncommercial open-source project, the only real support available is through the message board on the Web site. Although that may be excellent, it usually is something that corporate higher-ups will frown upon. Given its tiny user base, I doubt that software like this is a target for attacks, but Apache and MySQL are. For those who are not intimately familiar with Apache, PHP and MySQL, I would advise looking into using some of the Linux distro-specific security update tools, like Debian's apt-get or SuSE's YaST, to keep these packages up to date and as secure as possible.

The user management and access-control tools within the software itself do a good job of limiting what people can and cannot see, and these controls are granular enough that they can be customized on a user, group or subgroup level. All accounts and passwords are stored in MySQL with the passwords obviously being an encrypted field. It's probably a good idea to configure your Web server to serve this with SSL, over port 443, to deter any potential snoopers.

I also would suggest that anyone putting mission-critical data on this do a bit of homework on the interaction of PHP and MySQL with respect to passing database user names and passwords. All in all, I am fairly satisfied with the developers' efforts to make this software as secure as possible given its target audience.

Final Thoughts

WebCollab's beauty is in its simplicity. It's easy to install, use and maintain. It provides a comprehensive and flexible take on small-scale project management. Some users may be deterred by its lack of aesthetic detail, but if you prefer streamlined interfaces and quick-to-render pages to other bells and whistles, I would definitely suggest giving WebCollab a try. It's built on proven technology, so it's fast and stable, and because it's Web-based, it's essentially clientless. Users can be added to the system, and creating tasks and projects takes minutes. I also recommend this for transient users looking for a centralized to-do list that they can access from anywhere, as it's a very useful single-user tool.

As someone new to the Open Source community, I've found browsing sites like Freshmeat and SourceForge to be a lot like watching independent films or listening to indie rock bands. Every once in a while, you come across an unbridled gem that no one seems to know about; I've found WebCollab to be one of these.

Resources for this article: www.linuxjournal.com/article/7965.

Mike Cohen is a cofounder of Antropy, Inc., a small-business IT-consulting firm in Southern California. He enjoys spending time with his family and tow-in surfing at Todos Santos Island in Mexico.

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Webcollab

Curious's picture

Hi Mike,

Nice review on Webcollab. I recently began looking it over and did find the flexibility to be big plus. One thing I'm wondering is how you manage task assignment.

I leave the "all users can view" and "all subgroup members can edit" flags cleared, for starters, so I have discrete projects. But...

It looks to me as if when I create a project and then beneath that create a sub-task and assign it to another member to do, they become the new owner of that sub-task and as such they can go in and modify the original task assignment, which leaves critical data in the subordinates hands that can invite trouble.

If you don't assign it to them as a task or sub-task with ownership, then it doesn't appear in their personal "to do" listing so they never become aware of it unless you use forum routing or emails to cover it. In the later, everyone in the subgroup listing is receiving all emails or forum posts directed for individuals.

Any suggestions? or have you found a way to use the system to manage these concerns?

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