Microsoft says:

Don't keep your Microsoft Office Project 2003 information locked away on your desktop computer. Learn to attractively and effectively display your project in other Microsoft Office programs or on a Web page....It's one thing to create a project. It can be an entirely different matter to communicate it to others effectively. Team collaboration and reporting often fail if you can't get the information out for others to see....You've spent weeks preparing a project, and now you need to present all your hard work to your colleagues. All the information is locked in Project with nice bars and network diagrams, but how do you let people who don't use Project see your plan?....Once you've filled in all the fields and data in your project, how do you leverage all this work into an attractive and effective presentation — and not have to work over another weekend?

You could use Microsoft Office Excel or Visio to create a diagram that resembles your project, but duplicating your work in this way can be too time-consuming, especially when you already have all the information you need in Project....
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Using Microsoft Project Files Without Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project has always been a little problematical when it comes to sharing its data among the members of a large project team. Unlike Word or Excel, Microsoft doesn’t provide free viewer applications to let others see Microsoft Project files. Since the per seat cost of Microsoft Project is rather hefty (circa $1000), this creates a dilemma for many businesses. Most users don’t need to actively work with Microsoft Project files, so is it worth buying them a user license just for the occasional viewing? Many think not.


Project Management Software

The other official option is to go the whole hog with Microsoft Project and get Microsoft Project Server and Microsoft Project Web Access. This allows the project manager to update project schedules as usual from within Project and make the results viewable as web pages to other members of the team or even other stakeholders such as executives or customers. Project Server also contains a graded permission system so that the right to view some things but not others can be set for specific users. This is all very well but, for many small to medium scale projects, the capabilities of Project Server and Web Access are probably overkill, and their cost will be off-putting. So what other options are there?

First, there are viewer applications available. They’re just not official ones from Microsoft. Some are free and some are commercial and many come in both guises, with a basic free version and a more fully featured commercial edition. Even the full price of the commercial editions, though, is much less than you would pay for a full Microsoft Project installation. Seavus Microsoft Project Viewer is the market leader. With an interface very similar to that of Microsoft Project itself, users who are familiar with the Microsoft product will find it easy and intuitive to use.

Exporting Microsoft Project data to other formats is another option. Much of the software’s data can be exported to Excel. Excel is more widely deployed on corporate desktops than Project itself is so that may well be enough for you. An Excel viewer is also readily and freely available from Microsoft and Excel itself has a number of graphical display options. An alternative is to save some of the graphics in Microsoft Project as images and later embed them in an HTML file for easy viewing.

As well as viewing and exporting Microsoft Project files, there is also the option of using compatible software. The main alternative office suites such as Google Apps and Open Office seem to have so far eschewed intruding onto Microsoft Project territory but there are some other compatible applications out there.

Projity has emerged as one of the most prominent companies offering serious alternatives to Microsoft Project while maintaining full compatibility with it. Projity has been marketing its Project-ON-Demand product for some time. Project-ON-Demand is an example of the software-as-a-service (SAAS) model. Customers pay a monthly subscription and access the service through the web browser. Because its functions are presented through the web, there are naturally no significant platform limitations. Any platform that has a web browser will suffice.

Monthly subscription costs are fairly modest (ranging currently from around $5 - $20 per person), depending on role. Role-based differentiation in access to functionality is a key part of the package. Projity highlights the potential for bringing customers and partners into the arrangement with project owner’s having the power to grant them limited access rights. Certainly, this is one area where the SAAS model shines. Without the simplicity of a web interface, all kinds of versioning and IT support issues would have to be dealt with about before granting a partner access to a project management system.

In addition to its long-standing SAAS version, Projity recently introduced an open source desktop version of its product : OpenProj. Like its predecessor, OpenProj boasts full compatibility with Microsoft Project. Written in Java, it can run on Windows, Mac, Unix and Linux. Java UIs are often said to be a little clunky when compared to native platform UIs, so it remains to be seen how popular the OpenProj software will become. Its core functionality is identical to the Project-ON-Demand product. Where it differs is in the collaborative aspects. The role-based access system goes out the window as well as some of the enterprise reporting functionality like timesheets and notifications. OpenProj is still in beta but its core Microsoft compatibility aspects should be sound, given that they’re inherited from the already mature codebase of Project-ON-Demand.

So, although it seems that Microsoft consciously strives to make sharing Project files difficult, there certainly are some low or no-cost options out there which should allow you to do the sharing you need.