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February 2016, “Staff Pick” Project of the Month – ProjectLibre

Project Libre LogoFor our January “Staff Pick” Project of the Month, we selected ProjectLibre, an open source replacement of Microsoft Project. Marc O’Brien, ProjectLibre’s co-founder, shared his thoughts about the project’s history, purpose, and direction.

SourceForge (SF): Tell me about the ProjectLibre project please.
ProjectLibre Team: ProjectLibre’s mission is to be the open source replacement of Microsoft Project. Our users can open existing Microsoft Project files in ProjectLibre and you don’t lose any data and it is available on Linux, Mac or Windows.

SF: What made you start this?
ProjectLibre Team: I started the company with our CTO ( Laurent Chreteinneau). We have worked together for many years and had a previous company that we built and was acquired. We were pleased being acquired but it cut short our mission of offering the world an open source alternative to the proprietary offerings like Microsoft Project. The base cost of the product is ~$1,000 but in actuality far exceeds this number. The software stack required to implement for a team requires licenses and CAL’s for Project, ProjectServer, SharePoint, SqlServer, BI and Project Web App. It is costly and complex. Our mission is to provide a free desktop version that can replace their desktop version and a cloud version that is similar to what Google Docs has relating to Word. We are getting ready to launch a cloud version that is simply a login with your browser with collaborative features similar to the Google Apps. Btw, project management is a fascinating discipline with universities now offering Ph.D’s!

SF: Has the original vision been achieved?
ProjectLibre Team: Our vision has been partially achieved. The desktop release of ProjectLibre has been a major success. We have a lot of work to do but ProjectLibre has been downloaded from Sourceforge over 2,000,000 times in over 200 countries. The team is really pleased to see that impact globally. We have organizations like the Clinton Foundation and other NGO’s using ProjectLibre in Africa on projects. There are governments like the Kingdom of Cambodia using ProjectLibre for building out the school system around their country. That brings significant pride to the team as our vision and mission is making a difference! ProjectLibre has been translated into many languages so we are also reaching international users in their native languages. Our cloud version to remove the complexity and cost of the proprietary stack is still a work in progress.

SF: Who can benefit the most from your project?
ProjectLibre Team: Project Management is a horizontal application so it is utilized in a wide variety of industries and governments. ProjectLibre is also being used extensively in many Fortune 500 companies but also globally in many small businesses. We regularly get emails from organizations thanking us for providing open source project management software. The costs for proprietary software in project management is an enormous impact. We give them the opportunity to deploy those costs on core business initiatives.

SF: What core need does ProjectLibre fulfill?
ProjectLibre Team: Managing projects from small initiatives so large complex projects. There are project timelines, Gantt charts, cost management, resource usage and many other items required to effectively deliver a project. ProjectLibre has the full capabilities to deliver comprehensive management of the project to deliver on-time and on-budget.

SF: What’s the best way to get the most out of using ProjectLibre?
ProjectLibre Team: ProjectLibre is similar to Microsoft Project so the learning curve for many people is low. Those that have existing Project files can simply open them in ProjectLibre and keep going. If there are additional training needs there is online documentation and videos on our community website. We also are coming out with a new website this month and want to thank the FFWagency.com and the Drupal community for the assistance! We will continue to have regional community groups on the new website so users can join and participate. Our community is quite active in the groups and discussion forums. We also really enjoy interacting with the community and hearing the user stories.

SF: What has your project team done to help build and nurture your community?
ProjectLibre Team: We designed our current and future website in Drupal with a community orientation. There is a global community group with over 50,000 members but also regional groups our users can join. We have a new website and one of our 2016 resolutions is to really continue engaging the community with blogs, emails, discussions etc!

SF: Have you all found that more frequent releases helps build up your community of users?
ProjectLibre Team: That is a great question. We have been completely re-writing ProjectLibre to a modular architecture. That has unfortunately caused less updates to the old code base than we would like. It is a balancing act as it causes a delay in our overall re-write which everyone is looking forward to getting done. We get lots of requests for integrations and other items. It will be nice later in the year to have frequent releases.

SF: What was the first big thing that happened for your project?
ProjectLibre Team: I can think of a couple of items early on that helped ProjectLibre. The SourceForge team has been really supportive from the start. We have been in the open source space for awhile and that helped promote our initial release. We also received early assistance from Red Hat who hosted our website and community on OpenShift. The FFWagency and Drupal ecosystem also reached out to get our community website up and running. This allowed us to focus on the product.

SF: What helped make that happen?
ProjectLibre Team: The open source community including SourceForge and RedHat are so giving and helpful. It is one of the things that draws me into the other open source communities such as Drupal for instance.

SF: What is the next big thing for ProjectLibre?
ProjectLibre Team: It is interesting I sent the community a message when we hit our 100,000 download milestone. That was big as we knew it would be popular. We then have followed up when we hit 1,000,000 and now 2,000,000. Our next milestone will be the upcoming beta release of our cloud version!

SF: How has SourceForge and its tools helped your project reach that success?
ProjectLibre Team: SourceForge has been wonderful to the ProjectLibre team. Roberto, Rich and the other team members have been encouraging and helpful from the start. It has been a long haul! The ProjectLibre downloads are on Linux, Mac or Windows, the detection of OS has been accurate and assists our community. We also enjoy the download map and statistics both by operating system and countries. As a global traveler, it is wonderful to see the download map on SourceForge as we hit virtually the entire world with downloads.

SF: What is the next big thing for ProjectLibre?
ProjectLibre Team: We are rewriting ProjectLibre with a modular architecture. This should provide a much easier codebase to get community contributions. We are also releasing the cloud based solution that we hope generates our first revenue so we can work full time and accelerate the development. The cloud version is similar to Google Apps as teams can see real time changes while working together.

SF: How long do you think that will take?
ProjectLibre Team: It has been frustrating as we had expected corporate sponsorship from our Fortune 500 user friends. It did not happen so we are well behind schedule and from a project management company is frankly quite upsetting. We are looking to release the cloud version in the first half of the year. If we can then go full time it will compress the other work significantly.

SF: Do you have the resources you need to make that happen?
ProjectLibre Team: It has been a struggle as mentioned. I have so much respect for all the other open source projects that people volunteer and contribute. It is a significant professional and personal sacrifice and when you see the amazing efforts. My co-founder Laurent Chretienneau is amazing with his talent and energy. Having Laurent on the team means we are well set to make it happen 🙂

SF: If you had it to do over again, what would you do differently for ProjectLibre?
ProjectLibre Team: We would have looked at the cloud version initially or pursued corporate sponsorship more aggressively to allow us to focus on ProjectLibre entirely.

SF: Is there anything else we should know?
ProjectLibre Team: The team has been fortunate to have worked together for many years. We have a passion for both project management and making a difference in the world. Our way to help is providing free and open source project management software. We have built and sold previous companies. Our commitment internally is to make this a long term effort so we can fulfill our mission. There will be speedbumps for ProjectLibre and our community. Our commitment long term is to continue delivering!

[ Download ProjectLibre ]

ProjectLibre: October 2012 Project of the Month

Rich: October’s project of the month is ProjectLibre, an Open Source alternative to Microsoft Project. Now, as it happens, I spoke with Marc O’Brien of the ProjectLibre project just a few weeks ago. So, in this conversation we focused more on the community aspects of the project, rather than on the technical and functional aspects. Here’s my conversation with Marc.

If the embedded audio player below doesn’t work for you, you can download the audio in mp3 or ogg formats.

You can subscribe to this, and future podcasts, in iTunes or elsewhere, at http://feeds.feedburner.com/sourceforge/podcasts, and it’s also listed in the iTunes store.

Rich: Hi, Marc. Congratulations for being project of the month. I also see you had a record download day yesterday.

Marc I noticed that. I gotta tell you, that is highly appreciated not just by us, but I got so much feedback from the community. People were really pleased, because we really want to focus this and make sure that we can get the progress with it, and part of that’s the user feedback. And so more people using it and getting us feedback the better. So that was excellent. One of the other interesting things – and you and I talked about it last time – I’ve got a personal interest in the geographic dispersion of it. And I’ve been tracking not just the downloads, but the countries. We were stuck on 136 countries for about a week, and with that change, we bumped up to, I think 140 or 141.

Rich: 142. 142 countries.

Marc I need to refresh my screen. Since this morning, two more countries have … that speaks volumes right there. Because I checked first thing this morning, and it was at 140. You’re right. 142.

Rich: This is cool.

Marc It really is. And you and I talked about Africa last time. I do think that Open Source software in general, but this in particular, can have a disproportionate benefit, not numbers-wise, but impact-wise, all over the world. That’s a really cool thing.

Rich: Last time we talked specifically about your project and its history. And that wasn’t so very long ago. Let’s talk a little bit about why you think that this project is important in those countries.

Marc There’s been a lot of progress made in Open Source software for productivity applications and business applications. And you can look no farther than just OpenOffice and LibreOffice, and see the impact that they have will millions and millions of users, and really a very nice alternative to the Office suite from Microsoft. You can look at Google as far as the cloud. Office includes Microsoft Project. Obviously, they have a dominant market share in the project management category. And part of the Office umbrella includes Project. And it turns out that about 7% of all desktops not only include your normal Office suite, but also Microsoft Project. In the ecosystem of Open Source software, it’s very difficult to make that jump as a business, be it a large business or a small business, over to Open Source software if you don’t have complementary packages across the board. You could look at it at first blush and say, 7% is not a big number, but even in a small/medium business, with downwards of 100 employees, you’re still talking about seven desktops that need an alternative in the Open Source space. ProjectLibre is that alternative, so that you can actually open up Microsoft Project files, be it on Linux, Mac, or Windows, and you’ve got an alternative. So that the impact of ProjectLibre is pretty wide spread, because it will allow companies to really deploy Open Source applications on the desktop such as OpenOffice or LibreOffice.

Rich: So far as the third world goes, there’s an enormous amount of illegal software use. Your project and ones like it also fill a role there. Can you talk a bit about that?

Marc I really feel passionately about this because it is a moral dilemma, around the world, whether you manage your project on a spreadsheet or whether you pay $1000 a copy for Microsoft Project or other proprietary vendors. Sometimes we look in the prism of the North American economy, and we see piracy here. Piracy around the world is a moral dilemma – they’re really figuring out whether they can effectively manage projects on a spreadsheet or whether they need to pirate, because the money’s not there. ProjectLibre gives them a free alternative that not only can manage the projects at the same level of functionality and features but also lets them potentially save it out if they have to interact with someone with the proprietary software so that you can actually exchange schedules. I think that the impact on this world-wide will be very significant, because projects are occurring all over the world – Africa, Asia, India, South America – and we can see that by the usage statistics as well.

Rich: And of course that’s not merely in technology businesses. Everyone has projects they have to manage.

Marc That’s exactly right. Project management itself as a discipline is a very interesting discipline. People get their PhDs now, and their Masters degrees, in the project management discipline. Architecture, engineering, and construction is a big segment. Pharmaceuticals is a big segment. Projects occur across the board and it’s very horizontal as far as the applicability.

Marc The community, as well – we are thrilled with the community. The ProjectLibre community at ProjectLibre.org is approaching 1000 people. And I had high expectations for the community involvement, but obviously people are voluntarily joining, and those numbers for one month are just tremendous for us. And we’re trying to manage the community effectively, and we’ll continue to refine how we do that. It’s really been wonderful to see almost 1000 people join the community in the first month.

Rich: I assume that these are primarily users of the software. Are you also seeing code contributions yet?

Marc No, we’re not. We’re seeing contributions from the community. The contributions are primarily on the documentation side, as well as the translations side. The code contributions right now has really been smaller for the team, and I need to give a shout out to the co-founder, Laurent Chretienneau, who is over in France, and is just doing an amazing job with the group. But the code contributions right now are occurring internally, because it’s very complex, with a lot of the bugs being fixed. But the community has really reached out in regards to translations, be it Chinese, Arabic, Spanish, French, Italian … I could keep going. But it’s really been great to get those kind of contributions. But primarily the community is doing a lot of bug testing for us. WIth 1000 people, and growing rapidly, it’s going to be really beneficial for the entire project.

You and I have been focusing on the fact that it’s in 142 countries. But in the United States, about 22% of the downloads are from the United States, and we’re seeing community members from Fortune 500 companies and they’re readily endorsing us. And so we’re getting great feedback. I unfortunately don’t have permission yet to use names, but suffice it to say it’s actually Fortune 10 level companies that are readily adopting it. It really is cool. In one particular instance, are doing so not just domestically, but also with some of their international operations. For them, they’re able to do this effectively because of the interoperability with existing proprietary tools, a.k.a. Microsoft Project. So that as they’re rolling this out, it can be augmenting what they currently have deployed and send the files back and forth. In short order, I want to get a case study out there so that this can really be much more publicized with specific information. But I think that’s one of the things that’s really been gratifying in addition to the global usage, but also the fact that it’s spanning from small/medium enterprises up to, like I said, a Fortune 10. So that’s really great.

Rich: Marc, thank you very much for talking with me again. And I look forward to seeing your download numbers continue to grow.

Marc Rich, I really appreciate it. Thanks for all the support, and it was a pleasure speaking with you again as well. Thanks.

The Anvil Podcast: ProjectLibre

Rich: Today I spoke with Marc O’Brien from the ProjectLibre project, which is a desktop project management tool much like Microsoft Project. I spoke with him today because they have a release coming out over the weekend. It’s the first release of the project in over four years. It used to be known as OpenProj. Due to number of occurrences that we’ll talk a little bit about in the podcast, it has changed its name and it’s coming back out. We’re very excited to have this as a continuing part of the SourceForge family. Here’s my conversation with Marc.

If you’d like to have your project featured on the SourceForge podcast, just drop me a note and we’ll schedule something.

If the embedded audio player below doesn’t work for you, you can download the audio in mp3 or ogg formats.

You can subscribe to this, and future podcasts, in iTunes or elsewhere, at http://feeds.feedburner.com/sourceforge/podcasts, and it’s also listed in the iTunes store.

Rich: First of all, congratulations on the release of your beta.

Marc: Thank you.

Rich: Tell us something about the history of this project. I know that it’s changed its name in the last little bit. Take us back to the beginning and tell us where you’ve been and where you’re going.

Marc: I actually got my start in project management software back in the mainframe days with a company called PSDI, that some people would remember, and then migrated to a DOS-based company that won product of the year by InfoWorld back in the 90s. The founding team has a strong legacy going back to the DOS, Windows days, along with the first team collaboration solution called WebProject. WebProject got acquired, and it kind of terminated the mission which was for Web-based team collaboration and project management software. We launched Progeny, and Progeny had two components, one being the Open Source component, OpenProj, and the other was a cloud component called Project On Demand. That was acquired by Serena Software, and their interest was the cloud computing component, which was Project On Demand. The Open Source component, which is OpenProj, has laid dormant for the last four years. We see it as an important component of the Open Source. So we came back and we rewrote a significant portion of it as ProjectLibre. That’s where ProjectLibre comes from. We are the original founders, and we were the sole developers, of OpenProj as well. And the ProjectLibre product now is release in beta, and we’re really doing a big push with the community. We’ve got a community site out there. It’s been downloaded in the first day in over 65 countries, so I think it’s off to a nice start.

Rich: Where has the project management space gone since we last saw a release of this software?

Marc: That’s a very interesting question, Rich. The project management industry has been dominated by Microsoft. One of the reasons you don’t see many competitors out there is that their market share is so enormous. Maybe we’re foolish to go after them with this Open Source solution. I would say that the biggest move that’s happened in project management software was Oracle acquiring Primavera, which is an excellent company that was very dominant in the Architecture, Engineering and Construction arena – the AEC market – and that, once again, got rolled into Oracle. Microsoft themselves just continues to make this a significant portion of the Office suite. The last estimates we knew, over 6% of all desktop deployments of Office actually contain Project as well. It’s an important component of their revenue stream. It has been four full years since Progeny was acquired, and the commits at SourceForge, and the commits in general, really haven’t occurred in the last four years. Microsoft has come out with Project 2010, and the conversion to Project 2010 was very strong, so the current Open Source tools out there don’t have compatibility. It’s very complex, and so we spent a good deal of the last year writing the import/export round trip capability so that ProjectLibre can simply open existing Project 2010 files and you can actually store them back if you wanted to round-trip it.

Rich: So, what sort of functionality are we talking about?

Marc: It runs the gamut from gantt charts, pert charts, resource, everything from cost controls where you can have actual cost work performed, budgeted cost work performed, you can do all the costing. It’s very very complex software, as far as the behind-the-scenes software goes, and to completely provide round-trip access means we have to have the equivalent functionality. There are even things like different calendars on resources, different calendars on tasks, and projects themselves. Vacation time, cost escalators, if you have overtime costing, or if you want to bill a resource with a different costing structure for different projects. Those are the kind of things outside the “meat and potatoes” of a gantt chart and making tasks. It’s really complex software to replicate in an Open Source project, but that’s what ProjectLibre has.

Rich: You have a release coming out in … what, a couple days now?

Marc: Yes. We put the first beta up there. The community really wanted to see it, so we put that out. We’ve got a release coming out over the weekend, over the long weekend here, it’s going to be a beta 2, and it’ll have installers for Windows and Mac – the .dmg. Actually, the .msi is available right now for Windows. That was uploaded this morning, so there is an installer for that. We’ll have another release next week.

Rich: If somebody wanted to get involved in this project, it sounds like it’s kind of complex and people would have to know quite a bit. Are there places where somebody could start plugging in who didn’t have the entire stack in their mind yet?

Marc: Absolutely. We’ve actually gotten, even pre-release, a lot of contributions. On the translation end, on the documentation end, we even have someone from Africa send us ideas so far as logo changes. So there’s some graphic components there. And we do have a community site, at www.projectlibre.org. People can sign up there and become part of the community. I think documentation, integrations with other software … we’ve had companies contact us who want to integrate in. So I think there’s a number of areas. I think your assessment has some merit as far as the guts of the programming engine itself is very complex. It’s something that, deep knowledge of project management and programming is required, but there’s so much else we can get help on and we really want this to be a community-driven project.

Rich: Is there anything else that your project is trying to accomplish?

Marc: The one other thing is that this is project for the desktop. So this is a replacement of Microsoft Project for the desktop. We’re also in development of a replacement of Microsoft Project Server. That was actually our original mission, was to product a replacement of Microsoft Project Server. Our assumption was that the current Open Source desktop solution would suffice, but when we dug into it, there was just too much that needed updating, and so we really spent the good part of the year updating to release ProjectLibre desktop. But we are going to have a server-side solution as well, and that’s going to be something very new for the marketplace. There’s a lot of complexity to it but our engine is robust enough that the server-side will really be something that the community will embrace I believe.

Rich: Thanks so much for talking with me.

Marc: I really appreciate it, Rich, and I’ll keep you updated on the project.