Web Applications: Improve Your Workflow

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by Mark Bloomfield

In a world where applications are taking themselves online, there’s a host of amazing web applications that perform all types of services and cater for just about any industry. Thanks to the joys of technologies like AJAX, Rails, PHP, XML powered Flash and the like, there’s no limit to the functionality that can be packed into an online web application. In the coming weeks, we are going to be highlighting a number of these web applications.

This week, it’s all about the workflow – tools that make running your business even easier. Granted, there are probably hundreds of applications that can help you with various aspects of your business. But for now, we’re going to look at project management and invoicing.

Whilst there’s loads of project management tools available on the web, there’s only a handful that are actually worth being called management tools. Even fewer are actually useful and worth signing up for.

Project Management: Basecamp

A project management application that definitely makes the grade is Basecamp. Put together by the veritable geniuses over at 37 Signals, Basecamp offers everything from to-do lists, milestone management, users management, task assigning, time tracking and even a built in chat.

Basecamp

Basecamp

Basecamp

Create milestones (items needing completion by a specific date) to make sure you make your deadline. To do lists can be compiled and associated to milestones. Clients with whom you’re working, can be added as users so they can track progress on their project. If they’re computer savvy enough, you can set the permissions to allow them access to add and edit tasks and milestones etc. File uploading is also enabled which means you can track files related to a project – images, video clips… anything! When finalizing content on a project, the Writeboards allow you to upload content and work on it with a subversion type setup whereby older versions are saved and archived.

Without a doubt a powerful management application that successfully manages all possible aspects of a project with ease.

Invoicing Applications: Simply Invoices

Once you’re done with your project, you’re going to want to invoice, right? Two of the more efficient invoicing applications are Blinksale and Simply Invoices. Both have their own pro’s and con’s, but both provide a powerful means of sending out professional looking invoices without breaking a sweat.

Simply Invoices has a quick start process that will have you up and invoicing in just a few minutes. The interface is very basic and almost seems like you’re on a ‘need-to-know’ basis with just the bare essentials being displayed – no frills or fuss.

Simply Invoices

One of the big PLUS points for Simply Invoices, is it’s ability to integrate with Basecamps Task Timing feature. In Basecamp, you can set the amount of time spent on a task. Simply Invoices is able to retrieve that data thanks to Basecamps API, and you can generate an invoice based on the time spent on that task.

Simply Invoices

That being said however, Simply Invoices might be a little too elementary and their feature set is lacking somewhat when compared to other applications. Their currency list allows only for Pounds, Euros and US Dollars and their usage of templates is a little confusing at first. After some playing around though, it does the job of basic invoicing pretty well and it’s a definite contender in this arena.

Pro’s & Con’s:

  1. Con: Too simple. Not enough functionality is provided.
  2. Con: Limited currency options.
  3. Pro: Integrate with Basecamp Task Timing

Invoicing Applications: Blinksale

Blinksale‘s design and UI appeal slightly more than Simply Invoices, but that is probably just a personal preference. Packed with AJAX and an awesome feature set, Blinksale has proved to be the #1 choice for online invoicing for many businesses.

Blinksale

Complete with tagging, recurring invoice templates and the ability to integrate with Basecamp, Blinksale is a finely tuned invoicing application that was built with expandability and customization in mind.

Besides the included list of 8 color schemes for your invoices, Blinksale as the ability to be styled by your own CSS. By stying the various elements of their invoice, you’re able to create your own customized invoice template. Once you upgrade your Blinksale package to any of their paid options, the “Generated by Blinksale” footer line is removed and you’re left with your own, custom styled invoice.

Blinksale

Creating new invoices is a breeze too, thanks to Blinksale’s ability to integrate Basecamp’s client list. That means when you’re done with a project in Basecamp, you simply open Blinksale and ‘import’ your client’s details for a new invoice. Invoices can also be sent along with a PayPal link that allows for easy invoice payment if you’re doing business via PayPal. Then, when payment has been made, you can ‘receive payment’ on your Blinksale invoice, and then send a special “Thank You” message to your customer.

It’s these kinds of small touches that set Blinksale and Basecamp apart and put them high on the list of the top online invoicing and project management web applications.

Pro’s & Con’s:

  1. Pro: Create customized invoice templates with CSS.
  2. Pro: Inclusion of a Paypal Payment Link.
  3. Pro: Ability to send styled ‘Thank You’ notes after payment is received.

Summary

  • Whilst you have a number of options when it comes to online project management, with it’s multi-user setup, milestones, to-do’s, messaging, writeboards and so much more, you’ll have a hard time finding a more proficient tool than Basecamp.
  • Simply Invoices is perhaps a tad too simple. Blinksale provides a much more flexible online invoicing platform with a larger array of customizable elements.

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Self confessed geek and web application fundi, Mark Bloomfield is owner of The Yellow Llama and the writer behind WikkidApps. A member of Adobe’s Community Experts and showcased CSS designer, he spends most of his time at his desk – designing, coding & blogging from his home in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

  1. 1

    Basecamp looks cool but, like taskee, they only offer a hosted version. Meaning: all your project related data is stored on their server. I’m looking for similar products that offer self-hosting, i.e. I install the product on my server.

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  2. 2

    I like Harvestapp.com
    its a time tracking web app which you can allocate to multiple projects and people.
    This helps me keep focused knowing a little clicker is in the background like cents dropping in the bank for particular projects, rather than me being skitsofrantic

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  3. 3
  4. 4

    activeCollab = Free, host your own, Basecamp-alike.

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  5. 5

    Juan Manuel Lemus

    August 23, 2007 1:36 am

    Zoho (http://zohoproject.com/) is other interesant web application to project management.

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  6. 6

    I prefer to use SideJobTrack, for freelance/home-based projects.

    Lets you track projects, billing, and invoicing all in one online app. And it’s free!

    URL: http://www.sidejobtrack.com/index_old.php

    Creative Pro Office is also a nice solution. Not quite as polished as SideJobTrack, but the customer service response is very fast.

    URL: http://www.creativeprooffice.com/

    ActiveCollab is great, if you’re going to run it on your own server.

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  7. 7

    Basecamp is great, i’ve been using it for the past few months and I’ll upgrade to the paid version as my projects grow. The fact that my data is stored in their servers is more of a matter of trust, but this is only a problem if you want it to be a problem; the company that makes Basecamp is 37signals and they have a reputation for creating user-friendly applications and a great customer service.

    Will try Blinksale for sure, thanks for posting!

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  8. 8

    MrsCommunication

    August 23, 2007 2:00 am

    I’ve also heard good things about BillingOrchard. Read Jesse Bennett-Chamberlain’s reasons for moving from Blinksale to BillingOrchard

    http://31three.com/weblog/archive/from_blinksale_to_billingorchard/

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  9. 9

    just last week I did a little research and found Creative Pro Office. It´s amazing, really complete, FREE, and you could add it to netvibes. It has milestones, invoces, and it´s very user friendly.

    Try it. You won´t regret it.

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  10. 10

    I use Harvest for my time tracking too. Although the main site is, http://getharvest.com . Also has a Yahoo/Widgit which is very cool!

    I like LessAccounting (www.lessaccounting.com / http://www.lesseverything.com) for my invoicing. Seems that blinksale might have a few candies in the dish, but Less Accounting seems to top both suggested apps. They just got out of beta and are very Awesome!

    Future releases will include time tracking (integrating with either harvest or another app).

    They also work with http://www.wesabe.com for uploading your banking. Easy cheesy. Check them all out!

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  11. 11

    Recently I was using Tick, which looks quite similar to Harvest. But …call me cheap, but I prefer free service and I found one that is still in beta, still free. Minor flaws, but since the last major update, the service is almost perfect. It’s SantexQ.

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  12. 12

    Christopher Rees

    August 23, 2007 4:17 am

    I like basecamp as well, it’s a great tool but I do wish they offered a version that could be hosted on your own server.

    I’ll talk a look at activecollab, thanks for the info!

    Christopher Rees
    http://www.palaestratraining.com

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  13. 13

    Nice list, although those products have been covered extensively in lists that are very similar.

    We’ve created a web based management solution for the retail niche. It handles all the internal store operations of a small retailer including point of sale, inventory management, CRM, service, etc.
    Take a look:
    MerchantOS

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  14. 14

    Vertabase offers project management software you can install on your servers. But you can play with the free trial directly from the site before installing anything.

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  15. 15

    Basecamp definitely works for managing projects and cutting down on time spent on tasks. We’ve been with the full version for about six months now and wouldn’t think of giving it up.

    Web hosting is a plus, in my books. I can access my information from anywhere, any time. Service is reliable without a single day of downtime so far. Two thumbs up – and the cost? Pfft. Affordable.

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  16. 16

    I’m suprised that no one has mentioned Trac (http://trac.edgewall.org/) yet.

    “Trac is an enhanced wiki and issue tracking system for software development projects. Trac uses a minimalistic approach to web-based software project management. Our mission is to help developers write great software while staying out of the way. Trac should impose as little as possible on a team’s established development process and policies.

    It provides an interface to Subversion, an integrated Wiki and convenient reporting facilities.”

    It’s one awesome bug tracking/issue tracking software for software developments projects.

    I work at a web development firm as a programmer and we use trac in all of our projects. Trac you host on your own servers and it’s completely free…

    See the online demo: http://www.hosted-projects.com/trac/TracDemo/Demo

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  17. 17

    Activecollab will not be free as of the next version (1.0). It’s a great app, I use the current version.

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  18. 18

    O, I see, I like it, Thank!

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  19. 19

    In my opinion Basecamp is not worth mentioning as a project management system. Basecamp lacks two very important things: configurability and the comfort to rectify human mistakes.
    If companies actually care about project management, and they want a decent PMS, they’ll have to pay for it or have it custom made to meet their needs.

    Don’t get me wrong, allthough Basecamp is overrated for what it offers, it can be a solution for people that don’t need accuracy and only need a vague overview of what’s ahead of them and what the expenses are.

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  20. 20

    I use Trac to manage web projects as it integrates well with Subversion and has ticketing, a wiki and milestones. It also shows you the changes made through each ‘check in’. Highly recommend.

    Recently I also downloaded and bought an App for Mac Os X called “Billings” … as a freelancer this is a perfect, simple and fairly powerful invoice system that you can use on your OS rather than online.

    You create custom Estimate and Invoice templates using an easy WYSIWYG editor, create work slips to detail what work you need to do and then a little time integrates into the top bar to time your work. It also generates reports. Definitely worth the download / trial to check it out. http://www.billings2.com

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  21. 21

    Not directly related to PM or Invoicing, but in regards to time tracking I have heard only good things about http://www.88miles.net. Let’s you track what you did/when with a simple “punch in / punch out” interface. Worth a look.

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  22. 22

    I know a service like BaseCamp that is free and has good features!
    It’s activeCollab and it offers supports to new themes, languages… I like it!

    Dreamhost users can test it on “one click installs” feature on control pannel.

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  23. 23

    George C | The Lounge

    August 23, 2007 12:22 pm

    Hey! Excellent post! Thanks for sharing I really like your blog, it has a lot of usefull resources. Thanks Again!

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  24. 24

    What about Dotproject. A Complete project management appliaction and inbuilt issue tracking system. Opensource, host yourself application, there are many modules available.

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  25. 25

    SP Senthil Kumar

    August 23, 2007 2:41 pm

    Blinksale has beautiful work flow with lots of thoughts put in for easy to use. The site loads very fast. I use blinksale for my invoicing, it handles simple to complicated invoicing.

    Less accounting still needs to get improve on invoicing work flow, reports and data display, long way behind blinksale.

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  26. 26

    eh? No mention of Freshbooks ?

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  27. 27

    Scott: eGroupWare would be my tool of choice, but just look in wikipedia for “collaborative work” or something like that. Just look for eGroupware and you will find many alike. phpgroupware, simpe groupware etc.

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  28. 28

    STREBER

    Streber is a free wiki driven project management tool written in php5. Freelancers and small teams can easily setup projects and keep track of tasks, issues, bugs, efforts etc. Project-User-Rights can be adjusted e.g. to provide clients a limited view of the current project state.
    It supports very easy Installation with FTP.

    Try this

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  29. 29

    Another web based project management solution is Clarizen which has great interactive collaborative features.
    The online solution is currently available for a free trial for the first 30 days upon registration at http://www.clarizen.com.

    0
  30. 30

    I’ve been using the blinksale+basecamp combo for a while, haven’t really had a reason to switch.

    Also, check out http://www.carrytheday.com, they just released a mobile basecamp companion for windows mobile and palms that’s pretty cool.

    0
  31. 31

    Also a good sollution is Collanos, a free P2P sollution for working toghether on a project.

    1
  32. 32

    http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/jamjar/

    I love jamjar…and the 20 person limit keeps the committee factor down! Especially in education….and it’s free

    0
  33. 33

    we use basecamp to track and manage our project StarCraft 2 on Starfeeder.com

    Its really help keep things inline, also helps if you have a team that actually uses it unlike most clients :p

    0
  34. 34

    My favorite PM tool has been OnStage. There is a good comparison on the dailyapps blog.

    0
  35. 35

    I use activecollab for my clients, they can login to the system and edit tasks, make tasks and set deadlines and then I can respond to them. I think it brings a level of communication that is profound. Also activecollab is easy to install on even a cheap GoDaddy account and will cost you less than the basecamp account.

    I wish activecollab had an invoicing system of some sort though. If anyone knows of a plugin for it then please let me know. Right now I do it in word…very sad I know.

    Stephen Weber
    http://www.weberdesignlabs.com

    0
  36. 36

    I have been using basecamp for a long time now, it is a valuable tool to have your hands on.

    Vijay

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  37. 37

    Time59 (www.time59.com) has a lot of features for only $19.95 per year. There is no limit on the amount of records you can keep. It features timekeeping, expense tracking, online invoicing and accounts receivable. Note: It’s designed primarily for solo practitioners.

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  38. 38

    People using Basecamp should definitely read this article. Basecamp is popular, but there’s better project management software out there. I can tell, cause I’ve tried Basecamp and switched to Wrike. In a tool like Basecamp, you have disconnected projects. For me that’s the easiest way to miss something or double my management work. And if you have a lot of diverse initiatives you gotta use something else. Wrike allows keeping all my overlapping projects in one place, that’s why I like it. It has a Gantt chart that I couldn’t find in Basecamp. Sure everyone needs to pick the right tool for himself, but if you feel, that you tool lacks something, why not switch to another one?

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  39. 39

    You should also check out 24SevenOffice which offers accounting, invoice, crm and lots more.

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  40. 40

    I’ve tried Basecamp and find it probably the best of the common bunch. However, one huge feature I find missing in most project management solutions is lack of a robust comprehensive calendar. Even Google Calendar provides this and I really can’t understand why this is not a major feature of solutions. Also missing is a contact list, which is essential for project teams

    So until they solve this problem, I am using Airset for all my projects. I run an architectural firm and coordinate between 8-12 projects at a time. Airset gives me calendars, blogs, file storage, contacts and tasks. I setup my milestones on the calendars which works very well. I have blogs setup for each project, which keeps the project teams and clients informed. Finally the contacts keeps everyone current on contact info.

    As an added bonus, I have my family calendar and personal calendar also setup and can overlay all my calendars in one place. Did I also mention it is free for the time being, although the developers have said they would start charging soon. Airset has been a great tool for my business.

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  41. 41

    Our favorite tool for project management, task management, time tracker, file storage, budget manager -all in one, is Intervals
    http://www.myintervals.com/
    This tool is designed for small businesses and/or self-employed people. It basically works for anyone who gets paid by the hour, and therefore needs to track every working second.
    Intervals has a great visual environment that is very intuitive and easy to use. You can manage your clients, your projects and break everything down into tasks and assign each task to whom it correspond. There are project notes attached to each task so everyone can communicate within the system. Also, the application soon will have an invoicing feature. It is web-based so there’s no software to install. They have a free trial and free account for managing one project I think. Then you have to pay depending on the number of projects you need to manage, but it’s so worth it. Definitively worth checking out.
    http://www.myintervals.com/

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  42. 42

    I’ve been using Santex Q for a few months now and I love it, they just recently upgraded to a full release, they calle it v2.0. Its awesome it has a bunch of new upgrades, and it comes with a punch clock ( on a 30 day free trial). The developers promise more features pretty soon, this will make it a very full project management tool.

    I think the tool will be very complete when they include the billing feature.
    Santex Q

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  43. 43

    I just played with Blinksale and it is so nice. I was able to get it two work in a matter of minutes and it totally does what I need.

    Thank You for the tip!

    0
  44. 44

    iI has been almost 8 months now that started using the Q from Santex and is the best tool so far. i can’t believe is free. you can sign up here http://www.santexq.com give it a try! have nothing to lose.

    Pat

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  45. 45

    Anthony Rezendes

    March 25, 2008 8:08 pm

    I use activecollab. It’s a great open source project management application that does essentially the same thing as basecamp without the limitations. If you’re hosting through a service like Dreamhost, they’ve got a one-click installation that makes it a no brainer to start using it. The most recent version is a paid offering, but the open source portion of the project is now called Project Pier. Have a look. Its a really great alternative, and not just because it is free, but because you can install it anywhere.

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  46. 46

    I’ve been experimenting with various project management tools and have discovered an excellent site. It is a very user friendly, web-based application that is well worth taking the time to explore. Take a few minutes and look at Projjex.com. The tutorials are excellent & you don’t need to be a Rocket Scientist to figure out how to use it. It even offers a free version so you can try it on for size.

    0
  47. 47

    For those noting activeCollab, it is not an free/open source project anymore. Check out ProjectPier for an enhanced option.

    0
  48. 48

    Hi,

    I have a problem after installation activecollab into my godaddy linux share hosting.I have read many post topic and i have follow their solutions.I have ask godaddy support team, but their answer not given me a solution.

    When I finished install activecollab in my hosting, it shows a blank page or a page that said “no item selected”.For information, my godaddy hosting configuration is configuration 2.0 with php5.ini file.In some forum, they told i have to create the .htacces, i have done all forum instructions and the result is similar with my current problem.

    Please anyone can help me to solve my problem?

    Thank you,

    0
  49. 49

    Great list. Very helpful.

    Although, I think you left a great invoicing system off the list. We’ve been using Cashboard (GetCashboard.com) for a while and have been really pleased.

    As opposed to FreshBooks.com, it actually allows complete HTML control over your estimate and invoice templates.

    It also has some decent project management and time tracking tools.

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  50. 50

    Hi

    I am very near to launching my website….just one problem…my web builder guy is stuck as to how to integrate the payment system (moneybookers.com) with the calander system (which he has written the code for) on the website.

    The idea is that when someone signs up their profile is free for 3 months after which time they have to pay £70 for which they litterally get a calander year (within their profile – a calander which they can update with regards to their availability).

    I would be SOO grateful for any suggestions or advice or if you could put me on to someone who might know what to do…its a bit of a dilemma!

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  51. 51

    I have used Billing Boss . It does not have all the features as some of the other apps but it is simple to use and best of all, free!

    0
  52. 52

    The other option of course is desktop with web connectivitiy. Using Jobsheet at the moment and it works a treat for service-oriented biz.

    0
  53. 53

    Hello,

    You may want to check TiMeister.com too!
    It’s free!

    0
  54. 54

    Sidharth k Dhanda

    December 31, 2009 9:00 pm

    Leaving my footprint here …

    p.s. Compiled a comprehensive list of project management tools which may be helpful to readers here … pls check @

    The Marathon List of Project Management & Collaboration Tools

    http://blog.decode10.com/2009/12/13/the-marathon-list-of-project-management-collaboration-tools/

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  55. 55

    I use Billing Boss as my invoicing software because it’s free and I can currently create unlimited invoices for unlimited customers. Because they recently launched their mobile payment tool “Payment Boss”, I like how I can collect payments using my phone. It’s integrated with the invoicing software so I can track who paid for what. Much easier to track cash flow, plus my accountant can go in and grab my files on her own.

    Full Disclosure: This author has been compensated by Sage. I am their Social Media Consultant but I was using their product well before they contracted me. They found me when I sent them an email giving suggestions about Billing Boss!

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  56. 56

    For project management Basecamp is the lazy man’s choice – kind of MS Project for web. Everybody knows the name without research, since it’s been around for so long.

    It’s main strength is not that it’s a “powerful” project management solution, but that it’s SIMPLE. In fact its company takes pride in keeping it minimalistic and NOT supporting many features.

    For something more modern, with more features, still simple, I recommend checking 5pm (http://www.5pmweb.com).

    For invoicing I agree with Mark – Freshbooks should be mentioned.

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  57. 57

    Anyone have tried cohuman? :)
    I do and I like it!

    0
  58. 58

    Any chance there is a more up-to-date version of this information? I’d love to see what the recommendations are now. This article was written in 2007—have there been updates since? Thanks!

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  59. 59

    Basecamp is great as a collaboration tool and project tracking tool, but it lacks as a task scheduling tool.
    I found as a team manager that Basecamp couldn’t give me a team overview so I tended to use the Workstack (www.workstack.me) addon as that gave me an overview of the work flow of my entire team.

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  60. 60

    Apart from these web applications I recommend proofhub.com to manage your projects for proper work flow. It has all the latest features like time tracking, proofing, gantt chart etc.

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  61. 61

    Basecamp is just a hack not a helpful tool. If you need a best project management tool then go for proofhub.com.

    0
  62. 62

    Great list. Very helpful.

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