Mention project-management software to most Mac users and their first thoughts—if they have any at all—are likely to be of a non-Mac application. Microsoft Project has essentially defined the category, with tools for generating Gantt charts that depict project milestones as rounded rectangles stretched along a horizontal timeline, so you can track tasks to completion with colored progress bars.
Marware’s Project X 1.0.1, a promising newcomer to the Mac project-management realm, embraces the standard approach established by Microsoft Project, but it also provides an alternative approach to organizing and tracking projects in a flowchart-like Network view (also known as a PERT diagram) that’s likely to appeal to more visually oriented users.
Project X is easy to use and boasts tight integration with Mac applications such as iCal and Address Book, as well as powerful network-collaboration features that tap into OS X’s built-in Personal Web Sharing feature. Despite these impressive and ambitious features, however, the software was unstable and unreliable—it crashed numerous times in the course of testing. If Marware addresses these bugs promptly with regular updates, Project X has the potential to become a standout in its category.
When you launch Project X, the program presents you with a menu screen, from which you can create a new project from scratch or use a prepared template from any of a dozen categories, including Education, Construction, Marketing, Home, and IT. The individual templates are exhaustive, and many are aimed at businesses or workgroups. Home and home-office users with smaller-scale projects may want to trim some of the templates’ more-advanced options and resave them as simplified custom templates.
Multiple views provide versatility
When you create a new project, Project X prompts you to define global settings for it, including start and end dates, default work hours, units of currency for fees and expenses, and so on. You can also create a custom calendar for your project, specifying the hours for each workday, non-work days that apply to your company or a client, and so on.
Project X opens your project file in its Network view, in which you organize your project by creating rectangular tiles and linking them with arrows to specify sequences and dependencies. Tiles come in three flavors: Tasks (yellow tiles) have defined start and end times; Subprojects (blue tiles) are containers used to group related tasks; and Milestones (red tiles) are events that occur at specific times in the course of a project or subproject but have no duration—you can use them to signify deadlines, for example. Each tile contains fields for entering appropriate dates and times. Clicking on the i button on a tile (or the one on the main Project X window) opens a Task Inspector panel along the bottom of the workspace. There, you can assign team members to tasks, schedule meetings, send e-mail messages to team members, and more.
Team members, or resources, are assigned to projects or tasks from your Address Book, and in addition to standard contact info, each can be associated with a variety of cost information (standard and overtime billing rates, flat per-assignment fees, reimbursable expenses, and so on). The Address Book link is handy for company employees and clients, but for contractors such as couriers and shippers, I’d like to be able to enter someone as a resource without first having to add them to my Address Book.
In addition to Network view, Project X lets you view your project tasks and milestones in an Outline view (with tasks indented under subproject headings) and in a Gantt-chart Timeline view. In all views, clicking on a task and then activating the Task Inspector allows you to view and change its settings.
Impressive network features
Perhaps the most impressive component of Project X is called Web App. When Personal Web Sharing is active on a Mac that’s running Project X, it lets you publish a project as a Web page, which enables every team member on your local network to track the project and submit their work hours, expenses, and related documents and notes without having their own copies of Project X. When you press the Publish button, the Web page is created on your Mac’s built-in Web server, and you’re given the option of sending all project participants an e-mail with the URL, and even sending them a list of assignments for the next week, month, or for the full duration of the project. You’re also given the option of publishing the project schedule as an iCal calendar, and Web App can even e-mail each team member an .ics calendar file with project activities and milestones, ready for importing into iCal. Web App also supports publishing to .Mac Web pages, but the application doesn’t currently support publishing to other public Web servers.
Project X generates a number of customizable reports than you can use to update clients, senior managers, and team members on costs and project status. Project tracking is automated and is based on hours submitted and cost information (with optional approval by the project manager).
Macworld’s buying advice
Hold off for at least one maintenance upgrade, but then give Project X serious consideration if you need a sophisticated Mac-based project-planning and -tracking tool for complex small-business projects. With a little more maturity, it can become a leader in its category.
[ Jim Akin is a technology writer and editor based in Minneapolis. ]
[ EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated to remove a claim that Microsoft Project is not available for use on the Mac. Microsoft created a Mac version of Project for Mac users in 1991 that remains available for older Mac OSes. ]The Web App component of Project X generates a Web page on your local area network, from which team members can submit time and expense information, as well as track project status. For traditionalists and refugees from Microsoft Project, Project X’s Timeline view presents projects in a Gantt chart.