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Summary:

DeskAway is a project management solution from India-based Synage. Discovering Basecamp was a revelation, but I’m paying over $24/month for the service and am running out of the alloted Active Projects (15). I figured I should look at other options as my business grows. Although it will take me more time using DeskAway to give a detailed assessment, a few things stood out for me immediately after signing up for and logging into my DeskAway account.

I’ve been looking at DeskAway lately as a free alternative to Basecamp for managing client projects.

DeskAway is a project management solution from India-based Synage. Discovering Basecamp was a revelation, but I’m paying over $24/month for the service and am running out of the alloted Active Projects (15). I figured I should look at other options as my business grows.

Although it will take me more time using DeskAway to give a detailed assessment, a few things stood out for me immediately after signing up for and logging into my DeskAway account.

The first thing that struck me was that at their free level, DeskAway seemed to have more features than the fee-based Basecamp. Basecamp does offer a 30 day free trial on any of their service packages, however, DeskAway offers a completely free level although they do limit you to three projects and up to five users.

DeskAway also offers more packages than Basecamp in addition to free: Personal Professional, Plus and Power. Basecamp offers Basic, Plus and Max. DeskAway seems to offer slightly better prices with more Active Projects but in some cases, less space. For example, their Plus package is 100 Active Projects, unlimited users, and 10GB storage space at $49/month or $490/year. Basecamp’s Plus package covers 35 Active Projects, and unlimited 10 GB of space at $49/month and is month to month so doesn’t offer an annual subscription with a discount.

Basecamp menu

Just looking at the main menus of features, Basecamp’s Basic package offers:

Dashboard – The main landing page for your company account gives a listing of recent activity – about a week’s worth.

Messages – Standard message board. You can attach files to messages.

To-Do – Create and check off items on To-Do lis

Milestones – Keep track of what’s due, when, and by whom

Writeboards – These are editable collaborative pages

Chat – Real-time chatting. With the ubiquity of IM and SMS, I haven’t yet found the use for a built-in chat feature.

Files – File upload for sharing.

DeskAway menu

DeskAway offers:

Dashboard – Like Basecamp’s overview but also includes several views including Last 3 Days, Today, Upcoming and Previously. Basecamp offers only one view.

Milestones – Like Basecamp’s milestones but automatically provides links to Add a New Task within each Milestone so they are related.

Tasks – Can be added individually or integrated into Milestones.

Issues – Can be created individually or integrated into Milestones.

Time Sheet – Hours must be added manually. Basecamp doesn’t offer a timesheet function at the Basic level. I’ve been using Freshbooks to track time.

Files – Similar to Basecamp.

Docs – Like Basecamp’s Writeboard, however, DeskAway offers a much more robust text editing system with bolding, italics, underlining, formatting, bulleted lists, numbered lists, links – all the editing functions one expects from a basic word processing program. Basecamp forces you to use their proprietary tagging system to affect the text.

Team – Similar to Basecamp’s People and Permissions feature.

Messages – Similar to Basecamp.

Reports – Basecamp Basic doesn’t offer a reporting function. I’d have to pay for the Plus version at $49/month. With DeskAway, you can get a quick overview of the status of Milestones, Tasks and Issues and check the status of every aspect of the project at a glance – even with the free version.

DeskAway seems to put a greater emphasis on due dates as well as status reports which can help increase accountability, especially when you are no longer flying solo on a project and are collaborating with other team members. The fact that they offer these features on their free version is impressive.

In addition to wanting to track collaboration with my clients, I’ve been bringing on several independent contractors to assist with portions of projects so staying on top of the status of their work is important to me. For the time being, I will stick with Basecamp to track my client work, but in terms of a better collaborative tool for teams, I’m leaning toward DeskAway and am starting to use it for tracking two new projects where I’ve brought on contractors.

You can’t beat the price for testing out a new application that could save me time and headaches in the long run.

By Aliza Sherman

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  1. Thank Aliza for this review. We are gearing up to get much more reporting and analytics so that the system can play an active role in helping teams track their projects better and more efficiently. We hope this would help eliminate some level of guesswork that goes on within distributed teams.

    Look out for some more exciting features in the coming months, including, an automatic personal reminder of your overdue and approaching deadlines…

    From the other side of the world…

    - Sahil

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  2. Take a look at TeamworkPM.net – it’s another good alternative to Basecamp. Same basic approach but more functionality and pretty good plans.

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  3. It’s kind of annoying that DeskAway borrowed so much of the design aesthetic from 37Signals (including the use of Georgia, the blue gradient at the header, and the general approach to typography) but I guess that doesn’t necessarily affect the product itself.

    And actually, there is a free plan on Basecamp, which allows you to manage one project:

    “You’ll be able to manage 1 project with the free plan (there is no time limit on the free plan — you can use it for free as long as you’d like). You can always upgrade to a paying plan later if you need to manage more projects or share files.”

    https://signup.37signals.com/basecamp/Free/signup/new

    I think if you’re going to make comparison between DeskAway and Basecamp, you should point out that Basecamp keeps it simple so that it can apply to lots of different types of projects. DeskAway seems geared towards a certain audience with certain use cases (for example, reporting isn’t universally useful in every case)… For example, Unfuddle has a lot of the same features as Basecamp, but also features SVN integration and ticket tracking, which are features designed for software development.

    There are a number of basic features that any project tool should have, like task lists, messages, documents, etc. The degree to which any tool executes on any of these better will depend on the how the audience is likely going to use the feature.

    Also, Textile, the document format of Basecamp and most 37 Signals properties, is not proprietary. It’s not HTML or WYSIWYG, but it wasn’t invented by 37 Signals. Just to be clear.

    I have one request for DeskAway: support for OpenID!

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  4. Shania Rogers Tuesday, May 20, 2008

    I agree with Aliza, I found a lot of the comparitive study similar in my analysis, and I much prefer DeskAway because they are really friendly, with great customer service (besides the features). I find it surprising that BaseCamp stalwarts can only fault DeskAway on the similar look and feel – they cannot fault the product on its superiority in many features and in the pricing. After much research, I believe that DeskAway is a great PM tool, which offers genuine quality for the price, and a lot of regular user-driven updates – which I have noticed in the last couple of months of using it. I think it is important that they listen to their customers.

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  5. I have been a Basecamp fanboy for years but I am going to have to take a hard look at DeskAway. I love the simple time tracking in Basecamp however as a one man sho I can’t justify paying for ‘Plus’ anymore with the small volume of business I run through the application.

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  6. For those people who use Microsoft Outlook every day, and want the convenience of that combined with the accessibility of the web, have a look at ActionThis at http://www.actionthis.com. There is a free plan available, while there are some great add-ons for Outlook and Excel, with others coming.

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  7. Basecamp does not have many features and it’s developers seem proud of it. The two main features that Basecamp lacks are email integration and Gantt charts. Many other tools developers try to copy Basecamp adding some minor features, but missing the core point. We have developed Wrike as an agile project management solution for those who do not find what they need in Basecamp and MS Project.

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  8. Alice, you need to keep up with the competition. Basecamp added email integration a few months ago. Probably not nearly as robust as what you have, but for adding replies to message threads via email reply it seems to be working quite nicely.

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  9. Although Basecamp is the pioneer in this business, many new solutions have emerged on the market (some of them even better than Basecamp).
    I personally like ProjectOffice.net. It is a very simple project management tool that offers some extended functionalities: projects, tasks, timesheets, expenses, issue tracking and my favorite wikis. What is most important is that it is free. Sure, it is in Beta, but the application is “bugless” and stable.

    /Ella

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  10. I’m very tempted by DeskAway but I’m worried about data security and whether the company will last. I’d prefer a self-hosted solution but there are thin pickings. The best I’ve found to date is ActiveCollab but it appears to be a one-man-band and I need to be sure of support and I’d like some customization work, which they don’t do. So far I’ve reviewed 16 solutions. Quick reviews are on my blog if interested.

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