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activeCollab Interview

90% of project management is communication and task management. So why does software like Microsoft Project get so hung up on Gantt charts and task dependancies? There have been so many times that I’ve wanted to use the software for actual project management, but it inevitably ends up as a static Gantt chart, that may get updated once in a while to keep clients happy.

So what software solutions are out there for us that want to collaborate with our clients, that don’t just want to hide behind the ubiquitous Gantt chart, (almost as bad as bad powerpoint most of the time)?

In on the coat tails of the web 2.0 phenomonen comes software like Basecamp by 37 Signals and GoPlan, and for those of us who want to have a bit more control, and pay a bit less… activeCollab.

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With the upcoming release of version 1.0 of one of my favourite apps, I thought I’d get inside the developers, Ilija Studen’s head and find out more about activeCollab and where he see’s it going. On with the interview…


What is activeCollab and who is it for?

activeCollab is a tool that help teams work more efficiently by keeping all project related communication in one place and providing a set of tools for project management. It is a web application that can be installed on a public server and accessed over the internet (perfect for extranets and client areas) or used on a local network behind company’s firewall. There is no need to install anything on your computer – all you need is a web browser and you are good to go.

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More after the jump…

How did you come up with the idea?

I didn’t – somebody else did. I just needed something similar and created activeCollab. People do strange stuff when they have a lot of free time on their hands 🙂

People have described aC as a copy of Basecamp. Are you trying to copy it, or make a better product?

In the beginning activeCollab was a copy of Basecamp functionality that I created for my personal use and eventually decided to make available to other people who needed similar tool (my friends told that it would be a complete waste to have it just siting on my localhost).

Things changed as soon as people started using it. Development should be driven by your users needs, not by feature race with competition. Now we are just creating a product that helps our users and us get stuff done.

At the moment, you have released version 0.7, which is available free at your website activecollab.com, there have been hints that version 1.0 is “just around the corner”, do you have any news?

Version 1.0 has been in development since March 2007. This is a major update with big improvements and things are finally shaping up for a release. While we do not have an exact launch date set it should be in the next couple of weeks.

What are some of the new features users can look forward to in the next release of aC?

There is so many new features in activeCollab 1.0 that I really don’t know where to begin. New version is better looking, has improved tasks management, a tool for collaborative writing, a forum like discussion area, group chat, calendar, global search and many more new features.

While we added a lot of things users asked in the past they do not need to wait for us any more – activeCollab 1.0 has a brand new plugin architecture that lets you extend or alter the application without hacking the code and API that makes integration with other tools and services really easy.

Will there be a paid premium version of the software at version 1.0, and has a pricing model been decided on?

There will be two versions: activeCollab (commercial) and activeCollab Lite (free). While both version share the same foundation commercial version has advanced and business oriented plugins and include professional support.

At first we were playing with the idea to have several packages based on number of owner company members. This is model used by many existing applications and it just sounds fair – small teams would pay less while large organizations would have to pay more. It turned out to be a really bad idea. When you are creating a tool that needs to improve communication you want everyone aboard, not just the people management is willing to pay a license for.

Finally we decided to use a proven model where you have several packages based on number of active project you can have at once. There are four states a project can have in activeCollab 1.0 – active, paused, completed and canceled. Only number of active projects is limited while you can have as many paused, completed or canceled project in the archive.

The activeCollab license does not expire – you buy it and use it as long as you want. Support and upgrades will be charged on yearly basis. The activeCollab license include one year of upgrades and support. When it expires you can chose to renew the subscription for the next year (price is around 25% of activeCollab price) or continue to use activeCollab without support and upgrades.

What are your plans for the free version?

activeCollab Lite uses the same foundation as commercial version but it does not include advanced modules and we do not provide support for it.

It is made as an upgrade path for existing activeCollab users and as a platform that developers can use to learn how activeCollab is structured and how they can extend it. At the same time it is a free collaboration tool for individuals and smaller organizations that do not need advanced or business related features such is time tracking, chat or advanced task management.

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Any plans for a paid hosted version?

Not at the moment.

I understand you have a “one-click install” deal with Dreamhost, do you have plans to distribute it more widely in the future?

There is no special deal between Dreamhost and us. They included activeCollab in their one-click offer without any involvement from our side. I found about it like everyone else – from their newsletter. That was an interesting moment 🙂

I seriously doubt they will include activeCollab 1.0 as a one-click install due to license change, but we’ll see how everything will turn out.

There is quite a community of dedicated users active in the forums on your site, do you have any idea how many people or companies are using aC at the moment?

What I know are numbers of registered users, blog and newsletter subscribers and some basic traffic stats – but I really don’t know number of downloads or activeCollab installations that are in use. Numbers are just not my thing 🙂

What’s the future for aC following your release of version 1.0?

activeCollab 1.0 is a new platform and there will be a lot of work after the launch – new features based on customers feedback, bugs and fixes, growing community of users and developers. I am not worried that we’ll be bored any time soon 🙂


To find out more about this product, head over to the activeCollab website, or subscribe to the UrbanWorkbench feed. I’ll let you know as soon as it’s available and I’ve got it installed and running. I’m planning on implementing it for several Civil Engineering projects.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.

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