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Organize Your Team with Collabtive

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When you're managing larger teams of writers, developers, artist, or whatever really, a collaboration software can come in handy. The most popular and most talked about in the blogosphere is without a doubt Basecamp, which is a hosted solution that will set you back $$ monthly. If you want to save in on that, or if you just want to have full control of your inside stuff, then open source solution Collabtive is for you.

"Collabtive is collaborative software to get your projects done!"

Step 1: Download and Install

Collabtive is still in beta, the current version is 0.4.8, but so far I'm very impressed. It is easy to use, and the install was simple enough.

First of all, download Collabtive from the website, and upload it to your server. I installed this for my company, and I'll use that URL for the examples below. You'll need PHP5, by the way, but if you don't have that you really should be giving your host a hard time! Anyway, upload the files, and make the following writeable by the server:

  • the /templates_c folder
  • the /files folder
  • the file /config/standard/config.php

Then create a MySQL database for your install, keep the database name, user name, and password nearby, and point your browser to where you uploaded the files, for me that was http://team.cylinderlabs.net. You want to open the install.php file, so that would be http://team.cylinderlabs.net/install.php

From here on it's easy. Just fill out the database details (you should probably keep "localhost", which is filled out on beforehand, unless your database is on its own server) and click the Continue button.

Now, fill out the details for the admin account. You don't want to loose these, so make sure you remember them. Here you can also import content from Basecamp, should you be a switcher, although this is a feature I haven't been able to try since I haven't used the service in a long time. Did you try it? Do share your experience in the comments!

Anyway, click Continue when you're done.

And you know what, you're done! Login, and you'll arrive at the Dashboard, looking more or less like the one above. Now, let's take this baby for a spin, shall we?

But wait! There's one more thing, not mentioned in any readme file. Change the writing permissions of /config/standard/config.php back to read only. You don't want people to dig out your database details, now do you? If you're really anal about security, you might want to fiddle with the other write settings as well.

Now we're done.

Step 2: Putting Collabtive to Good Use

The first thing I did was to go to Administration, using the four icons in the top right, and then choose System administration. Here you can change the name of your Collabtive install, the timezone, pick a template (just one included, I'm afraid), import from Basecamp yet again, and so on.

I then went to the user administration, again, using Administration in the top right and then User administration. Adding a user is simple and straight forward, but if you want a pretty user profile page like me, you'll have to urge your users to click the edit button. It looks really bland and boring otherwise. I like the option to download a VCF card for each user, based on the details submitted, by the way. Very corporate-ish.

Since this is a collaborative software, you'll work a lot with projects and tasks. The first thing you need to do is to create a new project. You do that in Administration, yet again, and then Project administration, where you'll find a list of your current projects, and also an Add project button. I added a project for my Notes Blog WordPress theme, mostly to try stuff out, but also to keep track of the time spent on things.

Every task belongs to a task list, and that in turn belongs to a milestone, so your next step would be to add a suitable milestone. For me, that's an alpha version of the theme. Then you add the task list associated with the milestone, and populate it with tasks. It is all very straight forward, and you can of course appoint everything to different persons working in the system.

If you've ever used Basecamp you probably recognize the work flow. While Collabtive is simple compared to Basecamp, at least so far, it does the basics very well. We'll be running it in my company for now.

Step 3: Cool Little Things

There are some cool little things that I'd like to point out with Collabtive, the first being every date field in the system. When you click the field, a calendar just pops up, and when you've picked the date, it disappears. No icons or nonsense like that, just a simple and obvious functionality that I like.

Speaking of icons, here and there you'll see a disk icon. Hover it to get further options for saving down the associated data, which could be your task list or whatever. Most stuff can be saved as an Excel or PDF file, which is cool. Sure, they could just have had small icons for each of these, but the hover functionality decreases clutter, even though it encumbers the functionality somewhat. Since this is something I won't use on a daily basis, I think it is good as it is.

Another cool thing is the online list in the sidebar. If you're online at the same time as another user, you can start at chat right then and there with him or her, just by clicking a speech bubble icon to the right of the username.

The Timetracker feature could prove useful as well, you access it on the various project dashboards, where you can easily add a time report for when you worked on the project. This is certainly a good thing, but as always it depends on you remembering to fill out the time tracker form each time, and to add even smaller edits to a project, otherwise it won't be a truthful time report in the end. Still, easy to use and manage.

There is support for themes, and if you visit the Collabtive forums, you'll find a few threads about it, but at this time the standard theme is the one you'll build upon. Also, there's no documentation on this, so that's a limitation of course. That being said, just building from the standard theme should make it fairly easy to do some minor edits to fit your need, should you want to brand your install a little harder.

Wrapping It Up

I'm impressed by Collabtive so far. There are a few things I think it lacks, one being a choice of themes to style it. This, along with more localization files, is probably just a matter of time, since the system overall is responsive and easy to use, a true option to Basecamp for smaller organizations.

One thing it has to sort out, however, is a backup functionality. I want it to e-mail me database backups, and perhaps even do backups of uploaded files, so that I can restore my collaborative system should the server end up dying on me. Hopefully this is due in an upcoming version.

Give Collabtive a go if you need to manage your team, it's worth a shot! Also, don't forget to let us know how the Basecamp import feature works out for you.

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