Software

Merlin 1.3.11

If you have any role in managing a project, good software can mean the difference between smooth sailing and rough seas. A project management application allows you to create schedules, keep tabs on resource usage and costs, track documents and versions, and stay on top of who needs to be doing what.

Yet project management software is often hard to learn, complex to use, and expensive to run. The standard for project management software is Microsoft's Project, but there is no Mac version available.

ProjectWizards’ Merlin 1.3.11 is project-management software that’s not just built for the Mac—it’s built for Mac users. It includes all the standard features you’d expect to find, such as resource allocation, budget tracking, multiple schedule tracking views (including a Gantt chart view to visualize your projects over time), and to-do lists, as well as document linking and version tracking. Rather than simply being a cut-rate imitation of MS Project, Merlin takes full advantage of some of the best features of OS X, making it feel more like an extension of the operating system, rather than a standalone application.

Once you start a project, Merlin’s single-window interface makes it easy to set up your project’s specific requirements. Although it would be nice to have more than just the two built-in templates that Merlin provides, you can import projects started in a variety of other applications, including NovaMind Software’s NovaMind, The Omni Group's OmniOutliner (   ), MS Project, and ICS files from iCal. Merlin dovetails nicely with Apple’s own Address Book for adding project members, and with iCal for keeping your calendar up-to-date. Unfortunately, you cannot quickly jump from a team member’s entry in Merlin to his or her information recorded in Address Book, and once you publish calendars to iCal, the two programs do not automatically communicate updates to each other. Also, the online manual shows Merlin's German heritage; it contains some quirky translations.

One exceptionally useful feature is Merlin’s ability to publish project Web sites to .Mac or to WebDAV-enabled servers with a few mouse clicks. A site created in this manner will include not only schedules and team contact information, but also links to all of the associated project documents for easy download. However, Merlin doesn’t provide any controls to customize this output, and you will have to supply your own software to publish your site manually if you are using a standard FTP server.

Macworld’s buying advice

If you are looking for project-management software that takes full advantage of the Mac’s capabilities, then look no further than Merlin. Despite a few shortcomings in its iCal and Address Book integration—and some quirky German translations in the online manual—Merlin delivers everything you need with the style and finesse you’d expect from an application built exclusively for the Mac.

[ Jason Cranford Teague is the Creative Director for AOL RED. He regularly rants about technology and culture on his blog. ]

Check the status of all of your projects at a glance with Merlin’s Gantt view.

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