When it comes to general group and project management apps, there are plenty out there to choose from. In that sense, it really comes down to what each organisation or group wants to achieve from the use of the app and this can really help to cement that decision. Another factor that often comes into consideration is the cost of using that app. Most of this sort of app run on a freemium monthly pricing model but if you don’t get a lot of business that month or you don’t have any projects currently on the go, you could potentially be throwing money at an app that you’re getting no use out of.
Open Atrium changes this. It’s an open source “intranet in a box” that makes collaboration simpler and more affordable than ever. All you need to get it running is a web server with a few basic requirements and then you’re away!
Open Atriumis a self-hosted team and project management app that, through its incredibly flexible interface and feature set, can be used for a variety of different purposes. Whether this is for small groups working on a development project or a group of friends planning a trip, it supports a variety of features that making managing this so much more easy. With support for calendars, microblogging, regular blogging and lots more, it can be used for a variety of purposes and with its source code freely-available for installing on a local or web server, it’s a cost-effective solution too!
One of the first things that’s worth mentioning about Open Atrium is its incredibly customisable interface. Different sections of the app are broken down into boxes that can easily be added, moved around and removed at will to ensure that only relevant information is displayed on each section. On the main page of the app as well as the main landing page for groups, there are dashboards that can be populated with this content, either aggregated from Open Atrium features or through a standard block of formatted Markdown text, HTML or just plain text. With the ability to create multiple dashboard tabs for each, it can be incredibly simple to get just the right information available to other users.
Open Atrium offers a categorisation system called, quite simply, ‘Groups’. These generally allow for the categorisation of a group of users based on a common interest and in the context of this particular app, it might be best suited to grouping together users who perform a similar job or are working on the same project. Quite simply, groups are a very flexible method of putting users together to share content in a closed environment specifically for members of that group.
When creating groups, they can be designated ‘private groups’ which means that only members of the groups can access and share the content, and ‘public groups’ can also be created that allow users to join and leave at will. In short, it’s really simple to create separate workspaces for different purposes and I don’t really need to further explain the many uses that organisations could make of this. Inside each group page, a dashboard is automatically created which shows the recent activity and there are various useful features that can be enabled and disabled through the settings.
Now, onto the features themselves!
Blogs and Notebook
Not that it needs much explanation, members of groups in Open Atrium can easily use the built-in blogging feature that, like regular blogging platforms, allows just about any type of formatted information to be shared in the form of a post. This can be used for a variety of reasons and it supports the various formatting methods available for the customisable boxes as well as the ability to attach files to posts. The blog feature also sports a way for other users to comment on each blog post and choose who notifications go to upon each one’s submission.
In addition to this, Open Atrium also features a notebook feature. Think of it like a way of easily storing documentation and other written works inside the comfort of the Open Atrium interface. With support for revisions (like the blog) and a way of storing different ‘pages’ in a hierarchical system, it could also be used for an internal wiki-style system.
Another really great feature of the app is the ‘Case Tracker’. This is where the app draws its similarities to specific project management apps and I have to say that it offers a really good method of doing so. Projects can be created inside this section of the app and the format of these is much like the blog posts, presumably allowing for detailed descriptions of what needs to be done. Once created, ‘cases’ can be added for each which are essentially the tasks that need to be completed. They can be assigned to individual users and priorities can be added, much like most other task management apps that can be found.
In addition to these, Open Atrium also allows for a few more features to be used by its users. It features a calendar that be used to organise things between group members and keep everything in check and there’s also a microblogging feature (entitled the ‘Shoutbox’) which allows group members to communicate in a more informal fashion. This basically covers just about every individual feature of Open Atrium and each one can easily be enabled and disabled for certain projects depending on how useful they’re going to be.
In short, I’m incredibly impressed with Open Atrium. The fact that it’s just so flexible and customisable without requiring any learning curve makes it just seem perfect for any needs that are thrown at it. Also, we’ve covered many apps that only begin to scratch upon the surface of the features offered by Open Atrium the fact that it’s offered for free makes it even more suitable for organisations that might not be able to regularly fork out on this type of tool. Free software’s often misinterpreted as being lacking in the features that paid software is but with Open Atrium, this is quite the reverse. It supports notifications for most of the actions and just about every part of the app can be customised to match the needs or design of most organisations. If anything, it’s almost forgettable that this is free software because it’s built to the specifications of a high-end app. To conclude, wow.