Open source vendor takes on Microsoft Project

But analysts say it faces a tough road.

A new open source player called Projity is advertising its desktop software as a "complete replacement" for Microsoft Office Project, but analysts say it faces a tough road in its bid to win a large chunk of the project management market.

Projity started as a software-as-a-service vendor two years ago with Project-On-Demand, and launched a public beta last month for OpenProj, an open source version for the desktop. After winning SaaS customers such as NASA and Bechtel, Projity says nearly 100,000 people have downloaded its open source software.

Projity CEO Marc O'Brien sees his company as adding another layer to the Microsoft Office competition coming from Google Apps, backed by Sun and IBM, and various hosted software vendors.

"All of them are going after the Microsoft Office suite, but they've all got Word, Excel and PowerPoint replacements. Project is part of the Office family, but none of these suites has an alternative to Project," O'Brien says.

O'Brien says Projity can open Microsoft Project files, and goes "mano a mano" with Microsoft in features, even for "obscure things like earned value costing, scheduling constraints, resource escalation rates."

While Projity will eventually develop a paid support model, at least for now support is free in online forums where customers can ask the vendor questions.

While O'Brien claims to see a market devoid of Microsoft Project competitors, enterprise software analyst Dennis Callaghan of the 451 Group says other open source vendors have popped up to offer similar products. An IDC survey found that 16% of companies have deployed open source project and portfolio management, says Matt Lawton, lead analyst for open source business models.

"They're certainly not the first vendor to come up and say 'we're a low-cost alternative to Project, we're going to blow Project out of the water,'" Callaghan says. "This is a tiny company taking on Microsoft. ... The odds are against them."

Projity could develop a successful business model going after portions of the market, particularly small companies with tight budgets and organizations dedicated to using open source software, Callaghan says.

Projity has done a better job bringing its product to market than competitors such as Project.Net, another open source vendor, he says.

Customers examining Projity's software should realize the Web-based version is more sophisticated than OpenProj, because it enables the type of collaboration that is becoming central to project management, Callaghan says.

Project-On-Demand provides better reporting on project performance, including examinations of multiple projects simultaneously, O'Brien says. "We can extract a lot of information because the information resides on the server side," he explains.

Next month, Projity will release another product called Projity Enterprise, which can be installed onto a customer's servers, allowing better sharing. With OpenProj, employees need to e-mail project files back and forth or send screen captures to share information, O'Brien says.

The overall cost of Projtiy enterprise will be similar to that of Project-On-Demand, which costs US$7.99 per user per month for light users, and US$19.99 per month for power users, O'Brien says.

The Microsoft Office Project professional edition retails for US$999.

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