Projjex: Online project collaboration for the rest of us?

I have recently been checking out Projjex, a relative newcomer to the online project/collaboration/document management market. The "cool kid on the block" when it comes to this field is 37signals' Basecamp, but it seems like the two companies are after very different audiences. Basecamp is synonymous with "Web 2.0" and has a look and feel that suits this crowd. In contrast Projjex seems to be going after the older (more mature?) audience with an offering that emphasises practicality over design.

My sweeping generalisation is that if you read TechCruch religiously then Basecamp is for you, whereas if you have never heard of TechCrunch (or prefer 'real news') then Projjex is probably more to your liking.

The genre clash dilemma

Before I go over Projjex I need to get a couple of things off my chest. The problem I have with these project/collaboration/document management tools is that they are trying to do too much with too little. It is like a summer blockbuster that cannot decide whether it is an action, comedy, drama or romance film and just ends up being nothing. Pulling something like this off is almost impossible and at some point the software developer has to put a stake in the ground and focus their efforts on one primary thing. For example when you take a look at the 'traditional' desktop each one of these functions is handled by a dedicated product:

Every one of the above products has a very deep feature-set and whilst it is possible to monitor projects in Sharepoint or manage documents within Outlook, these capabilities are purely secondary and often accidental.

OmniPlan comes to the project management party

For the longest time finding a decent project management tool for OSX has been difficult, if not impossible depending on the features you require. Unfortunately even in the Windows world finding an alternative to the powerful but very expensive Microsoft Project is challenging. This is primarily because Microsoft Project pretty much owns the project management space in terms of the functionality provided and the level of lock-in demanded. Consequently with Microsoft not porting their application to OSX and alternatives lacking when it comes to functionality, usability and interoperability there is large void when it comes to the applicability of OSX to certain businesses. Fortunately the Omni Group have set out to change this fact with their first release of OmniPlan.

The OmniPlan workspace (click to enlarge)

The Omni Group have a long history of making great OSX software, in fact they started out developing software for the NEXTSTEP operating system - the forerunner of OSX. Without their OmniGraffle diagram/vector drawing package my life would be a whole lot harder. Omni Group software consistently gets even die hard Windows users drooling because of its ease of use, looks and depth of functionality. The reason why the Omni Group make excellent OSX software is because their products are designed specifically for the graphical and interface conventions of OSX. As their software is not simply a port of a Windows version or designed from the outset to run on multiple platforms the applications always look fantastic, integrate extensively with other OSX services and run as smooth as silk. I have been playing with OmniPlan and at this early stage it looks like the Omni Group have managed to maintain their high standards when it comes to functionality, usability and aesthetics.

What makes this different to big-iron project management?

Recently Mike and I met with a couple of representatives from Bentley. It was interesting to talk to them, basically it boils down that Bentley has taken a hands off approach in the New Zealand market and now they have realised that does not really work, especially when they are up against very vocal ArchiCAD and Vectorworks salesmen and an industry entrenched in AutoCAD. The first reaction when I described my research was 'ProjectWise does this already'. This is in part true of any Internet-enabled, project documentation management tool such as the aforementioned Bentley ProjectWise, AutoDesk Buzzsaw, Constructw@re or Prolog (a glitzy Flash demo for is available here). However there are some significant differences between the approaches that I should go into.