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-- by Joel T. Patz
TurboProject v2 Professional provides some competition for rival SureTrak 2.0, our WinList project manager. For $295, you can work with multiple projects simultaneously; create Gantt and PERT charts, tables and WBS (work breakdown structure) views; and track resource costs. The beta release we tested let us glimpse TurboProject's power, but annoying quirks and a less-than-friendly interface prevent it from replacing SureTrak Project Manager 2.0 as the top contender.
TurboProject allows you to organize a project without learning foreign procedures. If you already know your project's structure, you can enter activity names and durations and add dependencies by dragging and dropping them into place.
If you're unsure about specifics and just want to fill in a few preliminary tasks, TurboProject can accommodate you: Just enter each activity along the left side of the Gantt chart. The program enters default values for fields such as duration and start date. When you're ready, it's easy to link tasks in order (such as finish-to-start relationships). We especially liked the ability to indent activities; this creates subprojects that you can then distribute to the responsible parties.
Adding resources is straightforward, though assigning them to tasks is slightly awkward. For example, using the Gantt chart and a resource list, you must highlight both the task and the resource, then click on the Assign button. We would prefer a drag-and-drop approach to performing this procedure.
The program offers histogram views-graphical depictions that TurboProject calls Profiles-of resource utilization. You can record time spent on a project or indicate its percentage of completion. In addition, you can track expenses for any activity.
Changing the way TurboProject displays your data is easy. You do so by selecting filter and sort options from the toolbar. For instance, you can view all subprojects with Early Start dates (the earliest date a particular task or subproject can begin). In addition, you can view a project by week or month, and adjust a text column's format, size and headings.
TurboProject's screen is bright and colorful, and you can attach toolbars to any side of the screen, though they cannot be customized. Unfortunately, TurboProject is far more restrictive than SureTrak in display fundamentals: It won't let you control the style of arrowheads or activity lines in a Gantt chart, for example.
While not as user friendly as it could be, TurboProject is Windows-friendly: Context-sensitive right-mouse menus abound. You can drag one task's end point to the beginning of another task to create a dependency, or double-click on an existing connection to delete or change it. The program also lets you trace dependencies to view all predecessors and successors of an activity.
Our beta version evidenced many annoying limitations. For instance, the date fields in the Gantt view require you to enter the year. We were also confused when the program created negative float; we had to hunt through the help system to find out why. Negative float indicates that your project is not scheduled correctly to meet your deadlines. For instance, a float of -2 means that a project should begin two days before the original start date to be completed on time. We discovered that our project would complete three days after the original imposed project deadline. Unfortunately, the program provides no way to adjust the deadline, so the negative float was always annoyingly displayed.
Our beta documentation stated that you can save the 30 standard tabular reports as HTML documents for display on an intranet, but this feature was not enabled. Also not enabled but promised by the developer is the capability for sharing and updating projects via e-mail.
As an alternative to our WinList pick, TurboProject 2 provides most of the commonly used features needed in a project-management application and shows promise as a multipurpose project-management tool. However, Turbo Project's user interface needs improvement, and its help system needs examples to better illustrate key concepts. By contrast, SureTrak 2.0 offers great flexibility in its interface and excellent features such as Project KickStart, a wizard that we find invaluable for creating new projects. Consequently, SureTrak 2.0 retains its position as the top project-management tool.