Basecamp alternatives

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Basecamp alternatives

When 37Signals created Basecamp, they filled a huge void in the project management market: the world was full of people who needed to actually manage projects and communicate, rather than learning the black magic of project management and its complex terminology. Free alternatives to Basecamp took a long time to develop: ActiveCollab was released around 2006, a good 2 years after Basecamp. Right now, the most established free alternatives are Project Pier and FengOffice. There are tons of non-free alternatives to Basecamp out there. They are all page-reload applications that mimic Basecamp's interface quite closely. Amongst the non-free ones, there is one I'd like to see as free software: Apollo. More about Apollo later.

The status of free software collaboration projects

At the beginning, the free software community had ActiveCollab. However, just before reaching version 1.0 ActiveCollab turned into proprietary software, with the great disappointment of all those people who had contributed code and time to it. As the copyright owner, they had any right to do that. However, ethically speaking the community didn't take it very well (would you?).

The current status of free software collaboration tools is a little confusing.

  • Projectpier. Unfortunately, it looks like Projectpear's development has halted This is a pity, since ProjectPier was extremely promising.

  • FengOffice. While FengOffice started as a fork of ActiveCollab, it's evolved into something that goes way beyond managing tasks and projects -- which, incidentally, is what most people are after. This is not a criticism towards FengOffice -- I think they did something amazing. However, I think FengOffice could be a bit of an overkill if somebody wants to just manage projects.

What's so special about Apollo?

Amongst many, many alternatives to Basecamp, I am talking about Apollo. Why? The simple answer is: because I love it. If Applicom had come to me, and had created yet another clone of Basecamp, I would have wished them good luck and would have continued using text files for my TODO lists. Apollo was different. If you read my earlier posts, you know that I love the idea of a stateless terminal that stores all of its information online while doing all the processing locally. This is the idea about online applications. I want to be able to lose my computer and not spend the next day, or week, recovering backups. If you think backing up is easy, try living a life where you rarely are in the same country for more than a couple of months (my case); or try to get your computer-illiterate friends to have a sound backup strategy (most people don't). But, I also believe that in 2010 people should develop web applications that look like Google Documents, rather than Basecamp. That is: applications should respond snappily, and should connect to the server only to download data, rather than download a full web page containing that data.

That's the spirit about Apollo. That's why I fell in love with it. That's why I use it, shamelessly, and am talking about it now: Apollo makes my life immensely easier, and my workload (which is considerable, with Free Software Magazine and other writing jobs) totally manageable.

Applicom: please, release Apollo under the GPL

My love for Apollo is cursed: Apollo is not free software. The arguments are the same as with any Software As A Service:

  • If Applicom stops developing Apollo, I will no longer be able to use it
  • If Applicom's servers stop, I will be locked out of my data
  • Nobody can look at the code, and improve it

This is the same problem I have with Google Documents, and any proprietary Software as a Service. Yet, I'm addicted to Gmail and Google documents as well!

Applicom's response to this idea

I asked Applicom about freeing Apollo. Here was their response.

  • Applicom (the company behind Apollo) would need to hire programmers in order to manage the patches and improvements coming from the community. Managing external patches will take up a lot of resources, with people wanting to take something like Apollo to different places and bugfix to be checked. At the moment, they would prefer to focus on their roadmap. Communicating properly with the community would also take considerable time: if somebody offered to develop a big feature, Apollo would need to direct them to the right direction in order to save the developer's time.

  • Applicom would need to make the code "generic" enough so that the installation would be relatively painless for people who would want to use Apollo in their own network. Apollo has been developed as an in-house tool, and it's not really ready public distribution. Not only that, but any future work would need to be done so that public distribution is always possible.

  • Installation and product support. People would create countless forums posts about installing Apollo. At least for a while, there wouldn't me anybody but Applicom able to answer these questions. That initial strain is a worry.

  • Applicom comes from a background in custom-developed applications, where the license didn't even matter. They say that they are financially very strong, and have build their strength on custom and in-house software -- and now with SaaS. Switching to becoming a free software provider would be something new, and possibly dangerous.

Convincing Applicom

It's definitely worth a shot: email Applicom at [email protected], and send them an email saying "You should free Apollo", explaining in the email the reasoning, and why it would benefit Applicom as well as Apollo's users. Applicom won't be able to engage in discussions, but they promised they will listen.

I didn't manage to convince them. Maybe, all of us together will.

(Please be polite!)



Terry Hancock's picture

A little "devil's advocacy"...

There are 26 free-licensed open-source project management tools on this list.

You've mentioned 2. And 2 proprietary ones.

Are you really sure that what you want isn't already out there?

I'm still vague on what "project management" software really does, though. And does it actually save you more time than it uses? (Compared to say, just using a Wiki or a generic CMS tool). The only thing I'm really convinced could be useful is a collaborative calender -- but aren't there lots of those?

Tony Mobily's picture


My mistake. I should have specified *online* project management software, and should have probably defined the scope better.

Amongst the ones in the list that are online project management:

* Collabtive is not actively developed
* Dolibarr is an ERP, my focus was on project/task management
* dotProject -- Development has stalled a while back. Forums seem dead
* Endeavour is not a project management tool, but an Application Lifecycle Management
* eGroupware -- More of a general "enterprise management" piece of software, not a project management one

...I could go on and on. Believe me, I searched and searched. I am not saying that I am *perfect*. But I didn't find anything that was 1) Focusses on project management and contacts 2) Actively developed 3) Innovative in any way.

By "online project management software" I basically mean software that does what Basecamp + Highrise do: manage projects (that is, task lists, deadlines, milestones, possibly timers) and contacts with task on contacts. The calendar is a *bonus* (a nice one). That's the "new age" of project management, where the focus is on managing tasks and people doing them.

Plus, I am really amazed that with incredible libraries like Dojo, JQuery, etc., people (proprietary software as well as free software) STILL develop 90s page-reload applications. It actually irks me a little: I see it as a huge waste of time, bandwidth and technology.



Anonymous visitor's picture
Submitted by Anonymous visitor (not verified) on


There are tons of project management tools out there. Thing is, project management is a methodology and a philosophy. I think way too much emphasis is being given to project management tools, and too little on the philosophy behind it.

This article is yet another example of this problem...!


admin's picture
Submitted by admin on


This post has been inundated (I mean: inundated) with posts from project management software makers saying "there's us as well!". We have received 6 so far. I am afraid it will only get worse.

There are plenty of places on the net where these make sense, but this page is not one of them. Sorry, but posts about "check this one out as well" won't be published.


Ramiro Vergara's picture

try to post about my experience with a different solution. But I guess it was moderated. Just wanted to be on the record that I have no relationship with that product in case you moderated it under that presumption.

Guess it is hard to give an honest opinion without being taken by spammer nowadays.



Ramiro Vergara's picture

A few months ago I implemented ADempiere to a customer that uses Basecamp for managing all their internal projects. I really liked it and since I only implement FOSS based solutions, I started to look for a real FOSS Basecamp alternative. I installed Project Pier but it is still lacking in functionality.
I finally found Teambox, which is as functional as Basecamp, it is FOSS and offers a free asp service for upto 3 projects. I really recommend teambox as an alternative to Basecamp

Ramiro Vergara

chrys's picture
Submitted by chrys on

I tried apollohq and I was impressed. However I will not use it. The reason is simple: In the settings tab I get a message...

"We haven't quite decided what plans we'll offer yet.
Please stay tuned: from this tab, you will be able to pick which plan you want to use in Apollo! "

I am not expecting a free beer but at least I would like to find out how much the beer will cost me!

So, in other words I cannot risk having lots of projects started and then one day Apollohq sending me an email saying "ok, your free ride is over. Give us $100/month." To be honest, I find this "undecided price plans" method a little sneaky.

Until then, I will stick to Storm module of Drupal. Easy to use and covers all my needs.

Author information

Tony Mobily's picture


Tony is the founder and the Editor In Chief of Free Software Magazine