Open-Source Alternative to Basecamp: ProjectPier

A number of companies use 37 SignalsBasecamp, a hosted project management, collaboration and tracking application online. It features a rich interface and many layers of administration and accountability. basecamp dashboard

Branching from an early open-source version of Basecamp, activeCollab is an alternative that can be installed and managed on a company’s own servers or local network, but has become a licensed product since it left beta.
activeCollab dashboard

Enter ProjectPier, which I installed and have started using for many of my clients after reading about the application.

From the developer site:

ProjectPier is a Free, Open-Source, self-hosted PHP application for managing tasks, projects and teams through an intuitive web interface. ProjectPier will help your organization communicate, collaborate and get things done Its function is similar to commercial groupware/project management products, but allows the freedom and scalability of self-hosting. Even better, it will always be free.

It was easy and intuitive to set up new clients and assign them to projects, and create milestones and to-do items for everyone. Other key features that I found useful include:

  • sharing and tagging of important files
  • communication and notification settings, including e-mail and RSS
  • custom theming and form creation

If you can live without many of the Ajax-y bells and whistles that Basecamp touts, as well as the real-time whiteboard and team time-tracking, ProjectPier is a solid application for collaboration. Download the source code and try it out!

Agile Philosophy for More Than Just Software Development

I posted a link to Getting Real About Agile Design to the studio message board recently, and it set off quite a discussion internally. A number of people were hung up on the phrase “software development” and weren’t able to see the applications of planned flexibility for the greater business model. Admittedly, it is quite challenging in contrast to the waterfall model of project workflow, but Agile practices seem more fitting to the attitude and goals of this business.

From the article:

Agile is here to stay. The economic difficulties of the past months have finally put waterfall out of its misery; now more than ever, long requirements phases and vaporous up-front documentation aren’t acceptable. Software must be visible and valuable from the start.

Open Call: Eclipse

My editor of choice lately has been Eclipse, even though I don’t know anything about Java. The PDT project for PHP development is wonderful for keeping track of variables and functions and classes that my site/application uses, and it has just enough panels that provide information about the projects that I am working on, as well as the attributes for just about every HTML/CSS element.

Coupled with Subclipse for Subversion source control, Eclipse is my one stop shop for all things web development.

My only problem is that I know I haven’t much scratched the surface of what it can do, or how it can help to simplify my workflow. I discovered the plugin library at EasyEclipse, but only experimented with a few of them; the HTML Tidy and webDAV + FTP plugins. I know that there are keywords and shorthand commands that can be entered to cut down on the entry of raw text, but I can’t seem to find a good resource for them.

If you use and love Eclipse, post a comment and share your resources about how it improves your workflow.


If you love Eclipse, but want something that will easily let you add functionality like SVN, Git, or support for Ruby on Rails, check out Aptana. It’s a fantastic editor/IDE that absolutely blows DreamWeaver out of the water.

Cross-browser Debugging

A number of code monkeys that I know use the Web Developer Toolbar in conjunction with the Firefox browser. The addition of a menu/toolbar is quite handy, especially the abilities to enable or disable JavaScript and CSS, and providing line guides and rules to ensure proper alignment of layout elements. Despite being so comprehensive in its features, it lacks the ability to view the loaded assets of a page, explore the DOM tree, or view box model for any element.

This is where Firebug comes in, allowing you to not only inspect an element with one click to reveal all of its defined and inherited styles and attributes, but also to edit the properties in the browser without having to make changes to the source documents.

With the most recent version of Firefox, I had issues with viewing the attributes and styles of the A element, but I found that an upgrade to beta version 1.1 solved the problem.

And for testing in Safari, Opera or dreaded Internet Explorer, they offer Firebug Lite that can be implemented via Javascript file to take advantage of the console object, which can be very useful for debugging JavaScript. I plan to write in further detail later about the wonder and majesty of this feature, so stay tuned.

If you enjoy the inspection aspect of Firebug, there is another cross-browser tool available called pi.debugger. It does not work with Safari (at least not version 3) but performs like a champ on IE, Camino and Flock. The script can be downloaded to your workspace or linked to from the Google source page in the link.

Given the number of options and resources available, the task of finding that one property that is throwing your whole layout off should be made that much easier. Happy hunting!

ADDITION: Westciv has released a slick bookmarklet called XRAY that lets you inspect elements in almost any browser.