Open Atrium: Collaboration, Free and Flexible

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!

Overview

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!

Overview

Overview

Interface

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.

The Interface

The Interface

Groups

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.

Adding a Group

Adding a 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.

The Customisable Group Dashboard

The Customisable Group Dashboard

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.

Adding a Blog Entry

Adding a Blog Entry

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.

The Notebook

The Notebook

Case Tracker

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.

Case Tracker

Case Tracker

Other Features

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.

The Open Atrium Calendar

The Open Atrium Calendar

Final Thoughts

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.


Summary

Open Atrium is an open source project and team management app that can be installed on any server and features some of the features of high-end similar apps and loads more.

10
  • http://cheekymonkeymedia.ca Rick Bjarnason

    The other great thing is this is all Drupal. Which means you can extend it to match your specific needs.

  • http://www.fredonia.edu Jonathan Woolson

    Agreed all around. Open Atrium is very useful with a beautiful presentation and great information density in the project views.

    We’ve found that Open Atrium can be tuned/refined to suit a lot of needs as we discover them – something that is MUCH harder to do with many (most?) similar packages.

    I HIGHLY recommend the Atrium timer module built by Codi at FUSE Interactive in Vancouver to track time spent on individual cases and projects.

    Time Tracker base module: http://drupal.org/project/time_tracker
    Atrium Time Tracker: https://github.com/fuseinteractive/Atrium-Time-Tracker
    Atrium Time Reports: https://github.com/fuseinteractive/Atrium-Time-Tracker-Reports
    Codi’s page: http://fuseinteractive.ca/who-we-are/Codi

  • R Vinnik

    a recent post from their forums… maybe not so good anymore.

    “Open Atrium was an awesome open source project started by really smart folks with a love for Drupal. We love OA, and have become quite dependent on it. But then something really big and evil happened. Phase2 came in and bought it with a strategy to cash in on it’s wide adoption, thus locking us in with a gun to our heads. They then put out several post beta releases, hyped the heck out of them, and purposely made them unusable without their paid. OA is absolutely unusable with its the current permission settings. Unusable period. Permissions alone have made OA a dead-end for us. We’ve burnt too much time running into dead-ends. As I can see, there are many complaints about permissions. And Phase2 goes silent on the community boards. Zero help…

    Here’s what’s really going on. Phase2 purposely released some upgrades that really messed up permission settings making the entire project unusable–of course without their PAID support. They did this on purpose. There is NO way the post beta releases would have gone out in such terrible shape on permissions. Yes, P2 is radio silent here on this site. But go ahead and call them. They’ll admit the permissions are messed up. And they’ll be more than happy to immediately fix if you sign a big $15K service contract. They said this before the 1.4 release. Sure we’ll fix that no problem, but pay us. Meanwhile 1.4 and 1.5 have come out and permission problems appear to have become worse. Come on! Shame on them. This is a tragic story of a promising open source project that got hijacked by a company looking to cash in. These guys did it in the slimiest way by putting out the unusable releases.”

theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow
theatre-aglow