Low-Cost or Open Source Project Management Software: Which Should You Choose?

Resource-strapped small businesses always face a challenge when choosing new software. Open source software, which comes without any license fee, seems to be a pretty straightforward choice for these businesses.

But as a small business, you need to keep in mind that open source software (OSS) will eventually cost you money.

For example, WordPress—a popular open source content management system—may seem free, but businesses may easily find themselves paying for plugin upgrades or hiring experienced developers for advanced customization.

Calculating the total cost of ownership for OSS is a necessary step when considering a tool. It’s also important to check how active the user community is, as software updates are often reliant on the volunteer contributions of community members.

Brandon Wirtz, CEO of Recognant, points out that software buyers choosing between proprietary software and OSS must make a critical choice:

“Decide who you’re going to put your trust in: the community or an organization, and weigh how big or smart that community is.”


 
Unfortunately, OSS project management tools don’t really have an active, thriving community, as WordPress and Drupal enjoy.

According to Gartner, “The common benefits sought from open source software, such as flexibility and innovation, rarely apply to OSS PM software because such software is seldom innovative, nor does it see much active community contribution.”
Source: Garner 2017 report, Are low-cost or open source options for project management tools right for you? (This content is available to Gartner subscribers.)

This report is designed to help you compare OSS and low-cost project management solutions that are popular with reviewers on Software Advice. It explains the factors you need to consider while choosing the right PM solution.

Open Source vs. Low-Cost Tools

As an alternative to OSS, there are many low-cost project management tools that are ideal for small businesses. Let’s look at the significant differences between open source and low-cost project management tools:

 Open Source vs. Low-Cost Project Management Tools

Open source tools
Low-cost tools
Definition: The source-code is available for free, which means that businesses can use the tool without a license fee. However, users have to take care of software maintenance, customization and data backup. Definition: While a project management tool can be both on premise or cloud-based, it’s typically the latter which is more affordable. As a subscription based model, the costs usually include software maintenance and support.
Target customer: Small businesses (10 – 50) Target customer: Small to midsize businesses (10 – 500)
Pros
No license fee: There’s basically no software license cost with freely available OSS.
Flexible: Extensive customization of features is possible as you can make changes to the source code.
User community: A strong user community can be leveraged for fixing software errors and upgrades.
Pros
No installation or set-up required: The software comes pre-built with industry standard functionalities.
Software maintenance and upgrades: Vendor typically takes care of data backup and software maintenance with periodic feature upgrades.
Easy-to-use: Most low-cost tools are designed for novice users, so no special IT knowledge is required to use them.
Cons
Poor quality of service: This can be an issue, especially if you entirely depend on the user community for building new features.
Software security is a concern: You need to have IT knowledge or a dedicated team of software experts to implement security measures.
Total cost of ownership (TCO) can be high: Considering that users have to setup the software, customize the features and pay for maintenance, the total cost of software quickly adds up.
Cons
Recurring software costs can be high: The source-code is not free, you need to pay for using the software.
Limitations in functionality: Customization of the software can be limited and buyers may feel that they are locked-in with a tool they dislike.
There might be additional costs for support: The basic bug fixes and upgrades are free but you might need to pay for premium support and exclusive customization requirements.

 

Popular Low-Cost Project Management Tools

Asana

Rating:

Asana is a cloud-based project management tool that is designed to help employees collaborate on projects. To that end, the tool offers functionalities such as shared task lists, team pages for centrally tracking projects, team conversation tracker and integrations with file management tools such as Dropbox, Box and Google Drive.

Trello

Rating:

Trello is a cloud-based project management solution, that uses the Kanban system, designed for small and agile teams. Since its acquisition by Atlassian, Trello integrates with other Atlassian products like BitBucket and Jira, making it suitable for mid size and even large companies for managing a portfolio of projects.

Check out a detailed comparison of Asana and Trello to get a clear idea of which project management tool is better suited to your business.

Popular Open Source Project Management Tools

Taiga

Rating:

Taiga is an open source project management tool with features such as project reporting, task tracking and collaboration. The solution is designed for small teams (10 to 50), and is designed for teams that follow agile project management practices.

Redmine

Rating:

Redmine is a cloud-based, open source project management solution that offers functionalities such as issue tracking, Gantt charts, project wikis, file management and more.

The solution is written using Ruby on Rails, a popular open source web application framework, also used to build the popular project management tool Basecamp.

Also, check out a Capterra article to learn about 16 underground free project management tools.

Software Comparison Checklist

 


Features and Functionality Offered

Task tracking
Y
Y
Y
Y
Project planning and scheduling
N
Y
Y
Y
Reporting
Y
Y
N
Y
Project Tracking
Y
Y
Y
Y
File sharing/document management
Y
N
Y
Y
Time tracking
N
N
N
Y
Idea management
N
Y
Y
Y
Requirements management
N
Y
N
N
Testing/QA management
N
N
N
N
Online case submission
Y
Y
N
N



General Information

Asana
Trello
Taiga
Redmine
Cost
License and subscription
Mid-range plan starts at $9.99 (per user/per month)
Mid-range plan starts at $9.99 (per user/per month)
Software is offered as open source (free) and freemium (paid- starting at $19 – 25 members/5 projects/per month)
Installation and set-up
Free
Free
No cost for freemium model but you need a developer’s help to setup the open source version
You need a developer’s help to setup the open source software
Integrations
Multiple built-in third-party integrations available.
Multiple built-in third-party integrations available.
Few built-in third-party integrations available in the freemium model but for the open source version you need to build your own or contact the user community
You need to build your own or contact the user community
Maintenance
Vendor takes care of maintenance
Vendor takes care of maintenance
The freemium model is maintained by the vendor but the open source version will require a developer’s help to maintain the software
You will need a developer’s help to maintain the software
Online support options
Subscription fee includes access to a help desk, knowledge base and video tutorials
Help desk and knowledge base available to all users. Priority support with dedicated account manager available to Premium users.
FAQ and user community
FAQ and user community
Training
“Getting Started” online catalogue and other training resources included in subscription fee.
Online guide included for all all users. Instructional videos also available.
Getting started guides, developer and demo available
Getting started guides, developer and demo available


 

Key takeaways from the comparison charts:

  • Cost: Low-cost tools have a clear edge over OSS because you need experienced developers to setup and customize open source platforms. While there is no recurring subscription fee for open source, the costs quickly add up when considering software maintenance.
  • Functionality: When it comes to features, both open-source and low-cost solutions seem to be at par. However, remember that you will need developers to add plugins for additional features with open source options. On the other hand, low-cost tools come with pre-tested UI and periodic feature upgrades.
  • Support: This is another area where low-cost solutions have an upper hand over open source. While the former offers you different kinds of online support including ticket submissions, FAQ and video tutorials, the latter only offers wikis (helpful to those with technical knowledge) and a user community, which (as the Gartner article points out) is not as active and large as other popular open source communities.

Choosing the Right Project Management Tool

To make an informed choice between an open source or low-cost project management tool, you need to looks at these two critical factors:

1. Total cost of ownership

A clear benefit of open source over low-cost tools is the lack of license fee. However, both these solutions come with what the aforementioned Gartner report calls “invisible costs.”

For open source tools, the invisible costs are software maintenance and system upgrades, as businesses need to hire software developers to help them customize and maintain the software.

Similarly, with low-cost users may have to spend additional time to learn the software. In-house developers may have to build custom integrations to support features such as single sign-on or hooking into the software’s API.

Key costs to consider:

  • License and subscription
  • Installation and set-up
  • Customization and integration
  • Data migration
  • Training
  • Maintenance and support
  • Other costs

Here’s a TCO calculator to help you calculate the above costs for open source and low-cost project management solutions.

2. Critical capabilities

Growing businesses should check whether the PM solution offers capabilities that meet their business needs.

Must-have capabilities:

  • Collaboration: A centralized social collaboration platform for sharing files, team chats and activity feeds
  • Reporting: Provides detailed project performance metrics such as ROI, cost performance index (CPI) and more.
  • User management: Allows managers to define user roles and permissions for project participants.
  • Integrations: Offers pre-built integrations with third-party tools such as accounting and collaboration software.

Next Steps

This report intends to give you a general idea of the major differences between open source and low-cost project management solutions in the market. The most important step, however, is understanding your needs.

For instance, your teams might be able to collaborate better on projects using a social collaboration tool rather than a formal project management solution.

Likewise, if your business is facing the challenge of less employees but high project demand, then project resource planning is what you need.

If you have similar questions, then our software experts can offer quick answers and help you select the right solution. Give us a call at (844) 680-2046 or fill out this short questionnaire to get free price quotes for project management tools.

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