DeskAway vs Huddle vs Basecamp

Until recently, I haven’t had any real need for project management software, in that it’s been my sole responsibility to realise agreed projects. My assistance with a client’s event made me realise that
collaboration by email mightn’t be enough.

Thus I commenced on reviewing online PM software. (So many reasons I wouldn’t consider Microsoft Project or desktop-only software.) My shortlist became:

Basecamp
Has the most online buzz. Modern user interface and snazzy links with iPhone apps.

Pros:

  • Milestone events
  • Timetracking option
  • RSS Feed alerts
  • Clean printing
  • Team user comments on tasks, etc.
  • Writeboards (wiki)
  • Online chat
  • Individual email notification for actions

Cons:

  • No task deadline dates
  • No inline editing uploaded files
  • No shared address book (seperate product Highrise)
  • No reports
  • No discussion board

Huddle
Clever linkages with LinkedIn and Facebook. Free full-featured accounts for charities.

Pros:

  • iCal Feed subscriptions (but w/ extraneous text)
  • RSS Feeds
  • File upload/management/inline editing (with lock feature)
  • Writeboards (wiki) with version/audit; Word & Excel style docs (PowerPoint style forthcoming)
  • Task deadline dates
  • Telephone conferencing!

Cons:

  • No milestone tasks
  • No reports
  • No RSS Feeds
  • Poor printing
  • No timetracking
  • No task reordering
  • No shared address book
  • Inline editing buggy: crashes browser!

DeskAway
India-based company with only positive online reviews. Fully featured yet intuitive to use. Helpful video introductions for new users, at each tab/section.

Pros:

  • Milestone events
  • Timetracking
  • File upload (with user comments)
  • Docs (Writeboard/wiki) w/ inline editing and version tracking; Word style documents only, no tables
  • Reports (strong)
  • Shared address book (with tags)
  • Task deadlines, linked to milestones, sort by priority, individual email notification, mark task as ongoing
  • Clean printing
  • Good dashboard
  • Reminder emails to users re tasks, etc.
  • Issues feature to break task logjams
  • Blog (but no privacy settings)

Cons:

  • Task entering is cumbersome, too many steps required (DeskAway advise improvement next release)
  • Files
    and Docs accessible only within a specific project (prefer universal
    tabs w/ privacy settings for individual Files/Docs, but effect is same)
  • No preference setting for Dashboard view (e.g. always start with Upcoming view), cannot move any elements
  • Shared address book driven by Company field (eccentric); cannot sort by last name!

I am impressed how much thought has gone into DeskAway, while maintaining a low learning curve for project administrators, staff, and external clients. Took me less than 45 minutes to set up my overall account, with unique Project Categories, Team Categories, and Team Members.

You see, for me what matters is that I have all the necessary features to create and manage projects, assign tasks (or requests!) to relevant individuals, and keep on top of what is keeping project completion. It is just as important that invited users, who may be wary of having to create another username and password, find the software practical yet easy enough that they’ll put it to good use.

Having deciding upon an online project management software solution, it’s time to efficiently complete our projects!

UPDATE (15/5/2009): Being able to avail of Huddle’s free account for UK charities, I further explored its features. Subscribed to both Huddle and DeskAway, I’m now using Huddle by default.

Primary reason is the approach towards project management. In DeskAway, you invite as many work colleagues and clients to your DeskAway account (as Team Members), categorising them as Limited, Regular, or Super User. At the same time, you set up your Projects. You assign Team Members to your Projects; individual Team Members can belong to more than one Project. Effectively, you have a single workspace (your DeskAway account) for which you have colleagues and clients involved in various projects.

Huddle takes a different approach. The type of account you have determines how many Workspaces you get (one Workspace with free account). You could use a Workspace for an individual project, but that’s not how it’s meant to be used. Instead, you invite People into each Workspace. Analogy is colleagues (People) in your office (Workspace).

But you might not want to confuse/expose your volunteers and clients (who you can also invite into your Workspace) with staff you manage. Solution is Huddle’s feature of creating Teams. There’s a big green button for this right on top of the People page, but perhaps Huddle could explain this to its users more explicitly (a la DeskAways’ introductory videos for each of its features).

I can thus organise the People in my Workspace into Teams, which comes in handy when broadcasting messages and determining access to files, etc.

The significant difference between these two approaches is that Huddle is relatively weaker in regards to the management of individual, specific projects. For example, Huddle provides no project reporting, milestone tasks, or even partial completion of tasks. If you have these needs, then DeskAway may be better for you.

But if your priority is to have straightforward online places (Workspaces) for your colleagues and associates to go to, keeping files, writeboards, discussion forums, and task management in one place, then Huddle works fine. Here, DeskAway’s more eccentric approach to Team Member management (individuals are sorted by Company by default), the non sorting of its otherwise excellent shared Contacts feature, and lack of a table feature on its writeboards, all conspired to have me switch to Huddle. In the end, efficient personnel management takes precedence over a project report.

Furthermore, Huddle’s telephone conference feature (where your People ring a local number in their respective country) is genius. I’ve used it with great effect.

Yet my biggest gripe with Huddle right now is its flakey inline document editing. It works well enough on my Mac, but causes serious problems on Windows PCs, usually crashing the browser! For now, I recommend my Workspace People to Download and Lock File for Editing (which prompts them to Upload New Version).

About Allan Leonard

Working for a cohesive Northern Ireland society My special interest is Northern Ireland affairs, arriving from America at the time of the 1994 ceasefires. Currently serve as Director, Northern Ireland Foundation, an independent non-profit organisation based in Belfast. Previous posts include Policy Officer at the Northern Ireland Assembly, General Secretary of the Alliance Party, and Operations Manager at the Ulster Historical Foundation. Previously, I was responsible for the development and launch of the Troubled Images project at the Northern Ireland Political Collection, Linen Hall Library; this exhibit travelled worldwide. My professional background includes marketing, communications, exhibition and event management, policy development, and senior management. Received a MA degree in Irish Political Studies from University College Dublin, and a BA degree (with Distinction) in International Relations from Boston University. Views expressed here may not represent those of current or previous employers or associations.

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