If your New Year's Resolution includes something along the lines of "be
better organized," choosing a task manager might be in order. Linux doesn't
lack for task managers, but good ones are few and far between. To help LWN
readers boost productivity, we've picked a few to look at.
Tasque has the advantage of being very simple. It also has the
disadvantage of being very simple. It's a good task system for users who
want a fairly quick and easy way to manage tasks without the overhead of a
system like Getting Things Done (GTD).
Tasque is a very simple task list that syncs with several backends, or just with a local file. One of the main "selling points" of Tasque, aside from simplicity, is being able to use it with multiple data stores. Tasque works with Remember the Milk, the Evolution Data store, local files, and others.
Task entry and maintenance with Tasque is easy, and it integrates very
well with the GNOME desktop. But, Tasque seemed to be a bit laggy when
using it in conjunction with the Remember the Milk, though it was very responsive when working with a local data file. Whether the lag was due to RTM or Tasque is unclear. However, over more than a week's time, Tasque was very nearly unusable each time we tried syncing with RTM.
Tasque is shipped by default in openSUSE for GNOME users, and is
available for Fedora and in the Ubuntu Universe repository. Source is available via
the Tasque pages on the GNOME Web site. It might be a bit too simple for some users, though, which brings us to Tracks.
Tracks: Doing Things Properly
Tracks has the advantage of not only being open source, but also Web-based and available anywhere. Tracks is another tool meant to implement David Allen's Getting Things Done methodology, though it's also suitable for users who don't subscribe to that particular methodology.
Tracks is Rails-based, and not packaged for most major distros. It is
available as a BitNami Stack
for users who don't have a Web server handy or don't feel like setting up a Rails environment from scratch on their desktop. The BitNami Tracks package features a GUI and command line installer, and requires very little effort.
While Tracks is more heavyweight than Tasque, it's also much more full-featured and capable. Tracks allows users to not only track individual to-dos, but also projects. Since it takes a cue from GTD, it also provides users with a way to track contexts (such as things you do while at the computer, phone calls, errands) and projects via iCal, plain text files, and RSS feeds.
Tracks is sort of multi-user. That is, an instance of Tracks can support multiple users, but each user has her or his own set of actions. It's not suitable for group projects, as there's no way for one user to share projects with another or assign another user actions.
Tracks is ideal for productivity junkies who want to measure progress, or for consultants or employees who want or need to show how they spend their time to clients/employers. Track produces enormous amounts of statistics on completed actions, the number of completed actions in the last 12 months, the days of the week that actions are created and completed, and much more.
Need to get to data via a mobile phone? Tracks also provides a mobile interface via sitename.com/mobile/, without any additional configuration required. Finally, Tracks has an API, so users who have a bit of shell scripting, Ruby, or AppleScript under their belt can get data in and out of tracks using more than the Web interface.
When running under the Bitnami stack on the test machine, Tracks was as snappy as a desktop application — sometimes more-so. The only glitch discovered was that Tracks would throw an Apache error when trying to see recurring tasks. Overall, Tracks seems a very solid application and is quite responsive.
For KDE users, KOrganizer is the best of the lot. We didn't find any really compelling stand-alone task managers for KDE, but KOrganizer includes a really handy task manager alongside a journaling application and calendar.
KOrganizer is a bit more heavyweight than the others, but very full featured. To-Do entries can have starting dates and times, notes, attachments, send reminders, and attendees. Users who need or want all of that information should definitely explore KOrganizer.
Or it can be much simpler. The stand-alone To-Do list lets users enter task entries as one-liners with no additional information. It's up to the user to choose the level of complexity. Tasks are displayed in the To-Do list view and the calendar view, if the tasks are assigned a completion date.
KOrganizer is very complete for users who are looking for a desktop app without a lot of import/export options. Users who are looking to sync with mobile devices or Web-based services might find KOrganizer a bit limited, but if those aren't on the list of criteria then it's a very handy solution.
Any Linux distro that packages KDE should have KOrganizer in the package repositories, if it's not already installed by default.
Getting Things GNOME
One of the newer task management applications available for Linux is Getting Things GNOME (GTG). As the name suggests, it's a GNOME-based implementation of Getting Things Done.
Despite the low version number, 0.2 was only released in December, GTG is stable and relatively full-featured. Since GTG is new, users will need to either compile from source or look at something like Ubuntu's PPAs or the openSUSE Build Service, where recent releases are available.
Entering tasks is easy, all that's required is a one-liner. Users can opt to tag tasks and add notes, due dates, and so on but all that's required is a one line entry in the main window. Double click on a task, or click on "New Task" in the GTG main window, and GTG provides a separate window where users can enter additional details about a task.
For management of larger projects, tasks can also have sub-tasks. So if there's a lot of Yak Shaving involved with getting something done, it's possible to track every step of the grooming. This will come in handy for users in a corporate environment.
GTG also supports plugins, and works with several other GNOME productivity tools, including Tomboy and the Hamster Applet for time tracking. At first, it looked like GTG lacked support for a notification icon, which seemed odd but support for that is also provided through a plugin.
Overall, GTG is a fairly complete solution and should be sufficient for anyone who's looking to implement GTD on a GNOME desktop.
For lightweight task management, GTG heads the pack. It's light, fast, and provides just enough functionality that users can implement GTD or their own brand of task management. Users looking for a more complete solution will probably find Tracks the most attractive. It's very flexible and provides a very usable interface, despite being a Web-based application.
No matter what the preference, though, it should be able to find a Linux-based task manager to fit the bill. This is one area that FLOSS tools have very well covered.
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