October 1, 2008

OpenGoo delivers the best of CRM and project management

Author: Mayank Sharma

Online office suites are attractive for organizations with modest document processing needs, especially due to their low cost (read: free). But if you don't like the idea of storing your documents outside your network, try OpenGoo. It's an online office suite that installs on your local network and allows users to collaborate with others both inside and outside the network. The open source software, still under active development, is an easy to install and use, and if it's not quite ready for real-world large-scale deployment, it's getting there fast.

That doesn't mean you can't use it -- OpenGoo is quite usable and boasts several useful features. But it's at least a couple of versions away from a 1.0 release, and sports an equally long list of unimplemented features as well. The project was born out of a university presentation by Conrado Viña, now cofounder and project leader at OpenGoo, and targets small and medium-sized businesses with modest IT budgets.

OpenGoo is designed to suit an organization where collaboration is crucial. It doesn't try to be an all-out office suite, but rather integrates bits of an online office suite with concepts of project management and customer relationship management (CRM).

At version 0.8, the most recent currently available, OpenGoo bundles tools to edit text and HTML documents and presentations. A module to handle spreadsheets is currently under development. You can upload files in other formats to OpenGoo for centralized access and version control. Users can also create and manage task lists, send and receive email, and manage personal and group calendars, links, and contacts.

Many of these tasks are handled by other open source apps. Instead of reinventing the wheel, the OpenGoo developers glue together available tools, filling in the odd hole with custom apps wherever required. Some of the tools they use include FCKEditor for text editing, ExtJS for most of the AJAX interface, activeCollab for project management, and Reece calendar. For handling and editing presentations, the developers created something called Slimey.

Installing OpenGoo

Since the project's Web site says it works with the cross-platform all-in-one Web server package XAMPP, I installed it with XAMPP for Linux. OpenGoo works with MySQL, so you need to create a database for it, but that's easily done with XAMPP's built-in phpMyAdmin MySQL database administration tool.

Before you can get OpenGoo to work with XAMPP you'll have to tweak two files. First you'll have to enable the InnoDB MySQL engine by editing the MySQL configuration file (XAMPP-installation-directory/etc/my.cnf) and commenting the skip-innodb line so that it reads #skip-innodb. Next you'll have to increase PHP's memory limit by editing the XAMPP-installation-directory/etc/php.ini file and changing memory_limit = 8M to a higher value, such as 18MB.

Now point your browser to the OpenGoo directory under XAMPP's htdocs and follow the on-screen installation instructions, which prompts you for the database settings and checks writable permissions on certain directories. When it's done you are asked to create an administrator user, and, since OpenGoo is aimed at businesses, specify the name of the company for which it has been deployed.

You can change the company name later, logged in as the administrator user, from within the Administration section. There you can also configure email settings and set other parameters, such as whether you'd like to store uploaded files in the filesystem or in the database. OpenGoo recommends the latter.

Working with OpenGoo

OpenGoo uses the concept of "workspaces," which can be compared to virtual departments, or teams, or work areas. All users have their own personal workspaces, and can additionally be added to other workspaces. A workspace can have multiple users who can all collaborate on the files created in or uploaded to that workspace.

In addition to adding simple users, you can also add groups of users with various permissions, such as users with permission to edit company data, or manage configuration or workspaces. This helps delegate control, and can be used, for example, to prevent network admins from modifying company information, and to allow team leaders or department heads to manage workspaces.

Under each workspace, a user can send email, store messages, manage tasks, set milestones, upload files, add contacts, links, and calendar events, assign tasks to other members, and more. While adding users, you can specify the workspaces they are listed under. You can also limit their behavior within each workspace. For example, you can specify whether the user has the right to assign tasks to other users, or whether he has the right to create or modify milestones.

If you are not used to collaborative or CRM software, the concept of workspaces might take some getting used to. Even if you're familiar with the concept, you have to be cautious to make sure everything is filed under the correct workspace, since the controls and procedures for tasks such as adding Web links and contacts are the same irrespective of the workspace.

Navigation is always an issue with complex software, but in OpenGoo, it is easy to navigate through and from one task to another. Since the procedure for accomplishing a task is the same irrespective of the workspace, you can add files into one workspace while working on another one. This saves you valuable time, since you can accomplish all tasks for any workspace without switching from your active workspace.

I also like the Overview dashboard, which displays a snapshot of upcoming events, milestones, and tasks, and also messages for that particular workspace. It can be used to quickly assess work accomplished and pending, along with messages from users. For example, at the end of the day a team leader can look at the Overview dashboard and see a list of tasks completed that day, milestones reached, pending tasks for tomorrow, upcoming calendar events, and messages from team members (vacation reminders, brief reports, and more).

Another feature I like is the automatic document version control. When you want to edit a file, you can "check it out," which blocks it from being edited by another user. When you're done with the editing, you "check in" the file by uploading the newer version. All versions of all documents, created or uploaded, are saved.

Although it's well layed out, I do have one little issue with the app. Since most of the interface is laced with text boxes, it would have been a nice idea to allow the use of the Tab key to jump between the text boxes on a page. Grabbing the mouse every time you need to switch between text boxes gets irritating after a while. I hope this usability issue is resolved by the time OpenGoo v1.0 is released. A new name wouldn't hurt as well. In a blog post announcing the 0.8 release, Viña writes that v1.0, slated to be released in late October, will feature better task management, improved usability, and a reporting module as well.

Final word

OpenGoo is a useful app for organizations that lay emphasis on document distribution and version control. Its developers don't consider it quite ready for real-world deployment, but the app still impresses with its useful CRM and project management functions. Any organization looking to cut down IT costs or grappling with document distribution ought to give OpenGoo a look.

Categories:

  • Internet & WWW
  • Reviews