I am a daily user of Trello, the visual online service to organize cards into lists. Trello is a very simple but neatly found idea: you use cards organized into lists to represent your things (e.g. to-do lists) and, more importantly, you re-organize them as you wish: moving cards, moving lists, putting colored labels, comments, due date, or check-lists on cards, ... That way, you can represent about any system and update it status very easily and visually. Trello has also filtering capabilities and, last but not least, collaborative capabilities by sharing boards of cards. Trello is visual, simple to use. You can organize both your private and professional life with it: bug tracker, to-do list, project management, holidays planning, etc. Trello is great!

Well, nearly. Trello has a big drawback: it is a proprietary product.

So, can we find an open-source alternative to Trello?

Looking for open-source Trello-like application

A friend of mine recommended me to look at AlternativeTo's suggested application for Trello. The listed applications can be classified in four categories:

  • Bug trackers and project management tools (Trac, Tuleap Open ALM, ...);
  • Kanban-like boards for Agile project management (Kanboard, TaskBoard, ...);
  • Some strange-application-in-that-category like Loomio, Agenda or ERPAL;
  • Two Trello-like applications: Restyaboard and Wekan!

Restyboard and Wekan are very similar, i.e. a very early prototype of Trello. You can create lists and cards, move them, add labels and do some filtering, share boards... and that's all! Moreover Restyboard is very slow and uneasy. So if you want a basic Trello-like open-source alternative to Trello, use Wekan.

But if you want the full power of Trello, you won't find any open-source alternative.

So we need to build it. :-)

Designing a better Free Software alternative to Trello

So, how could we improve Trello?

Firstly, take all the basics of Trello: lists, cards, due dates, filters, check-lists, board sharing, etc. Maybe some goodies like badges are not needed, but the core of our Free Software Trello should be very close to the current proprietary Trello.

Second step: make it real desktop application (and mobile App), not an online service. Why? Because in a post-Snowden era, you cannot trust any online server, not in the US, not in Europe, not even your own lovely-administrated-server. So edit your data locally, encrypt it and then upload it for sharing. For a local application, you can create a real desktop application, or a web application. The second one might be easier to create and is in the mainstream, but even if web-based application can be very powerful, there always are strange UI issues, like application "windows" not interacting similarly to your other desktop windows. So I vote for the real application.

Third step: add sharing capabilities. Data should be uploaded in encrypted form. On the server, you need a minimal platform to store pieces of data, maybe with some PHP to maximize hosting ability. That step might be a bit tricky: you need some crypto power, be astute and not re-invent the wheel (or you won't have any security) to be able to share data while keeping that data encrypted on server. But there is always a lot of fun in a technical challenge! :-) And other people are looking at this issue, like Mozilla's Firefox Sync.

Fourth step: add 2D capabilities. I always found Trello frustrating regarding list organization: I can put lists in column, but I cannot organize lists in two dimensions, as on a table. Sometimes lists are very short: I would like to group them together, one above the other. Trello does not allow that.

Fifth but not least step: add programming capabilities. You want to automatically move cards when a certain label is put on them? You want to create a card when an email is received? Take you favorite programming language (OCaml, Lua, Ruby, ...), use the API and program the behavior your want. Even better, publish the recipe online, in a public repository, that way other people can reuse your nice Agile Project Management Tool Manipulated With Only Five Keystrokes™.

With all of that, I think we'll have a better Free Software alternative to Trello.

By the way I propose its name, Tibett: Tibett is better than Trello and because with Tibbet you can go to high heights. :)

What do you think of it? Would you have other improvements to Trello?