Monday, February 11, 2008

Microsoft Project 2007 vs Merlin 2.5

In my day-job as Project Manager at a London Digital Marketing agency, I turn around a great number of project schedules. A solid tool to create these is indispensable to my armoury.

I tried out MS Project 2007 (for PC) over the weekend - and for the first time realised how far Merlin 2 (for Mac) is ahead of it. Who'd have thought? It seems to me that Project Wizards with Merlin are leaders, when I had assumed they were followers.

I identified several things in MS Project that are poor compared to Merlin:
  • You don't seem to able to zoom in to days or zoom out to weeks/months easily (or even at all) in MS Project. This 'scaling' is something I use all the time in Merlin.
  • In MS Project: no library of commonly used project elements, or templates or ready-made schedules to get you started, that I saw. (the MS Project 'Project Guide' says it's helpful and intuitive: it isn't).
  • The presentation of the GANTT chart in MS Project, even in '2007' remains awful. No drop-shadows, no anti-aliasing, no soft edges. This isn't a fluffy or subjective point: I like my project documentation to have substance and style.
  • The way MS Project shows 'completion' is not as intuitive as Merlin. Thin lines inside a bar vs shading the whole bar.
  • No task names on the bars within the chart part: being able to print just that, without the task list, is again useful day to day.
  • Whereas Merlin has an application-specific, well thought-out Print dialog, MS Project uses a system-wide one, with the Preview needing a whole different screen/window and none of the helpful options Merlin provides to quickly print just what you want.
  • Merlin's helpfile is remarkable in that, instead of the usual 'Pressing the 'OK' button will accept the settings', you get a thoughtful and well taught mini-course in Project Management principles, each part mapped to the application.
  • Merlin is Microsoft Project compatible (and I've relied on this in a Production environment) - but MS Project doesn't run on a Mac.
  • Merlin costs less than MS Project (in most licensing situations)
In summary I could see a number of serious drawbacks but very few reasons to prefer MS Project. OK, perhaps it's server-based components/team collaboration tools and integration with other MS/PC products - and even those are mostly available with Merlin 2.5.

Merlin is less a 'challenger brand' and now a better, more comprehensive tool that too few people have yet discovered.


kbbrux said...

I switched over some time ago, and cannot fault Merlin. It wins hands down in terms of functionality, price ad even my colleagues get a wow factor from the lush printouts :)


Pharkie said...

Tnx for the comment Kb. Have had the same experience. That it's cheaper and looks nicer is to be expected, I think, for a Mac app/equivalent.

What I didn't anticipate was it being more feature-complete, usable and useful. I find that remarkable. I wonder if I would find the same comparing Visio to OmniGraffle?

Anonymous said...

I am in a process of converting MS project files into Merlin 2. I found some comments in the Support tab in the Merlin 2 website. Any pointers to share?


Pharkie said...


There's no converting as such, you just open the MS Project files in Merlin.

If MS Project's 'native' format doesn't work quite right, try exporting the 'XML' format from MS Project instead, Merlin can sometimes understand that better.

Otherwise you'll likely find Merlin support helpful on this one.


Anonymous said...

The products target different audiences. Half of what you describe is useless for where pretty graphics don't make a great impression. On the other hand, Merlin still has nothing to match MS Project Server, which I've found critical for managing medium-sized but distributed teams. Similarly, it's keyboard support is lousy: I don't want to have to use the mouse to get my tasks in line. (ProjectWizards could learn a lot from the guy who makes iGTD on this issue.)

For small, Mac-centric teams (or more often, single planners), Merlin's great. Like much of the Mac world, though, it's full of cute frills and not ready for an enterprise environment.

That's said, it's horses-for-courses. Most small teams using MS Project are using a sledgehammer to crack a walnut.

Carlos Rodriguez said...


Hi good morning

Hey one question do you know if Merlin is compatible with project for example i have some users with project and other users with merlin

can i open the files created with merlin on project and viseversa?


Pharkie said...

You can open files created in Project in Merlin natively. You can open Merlin files in Project by saving to Project format.

So interchangeable yes.

Anonymous said... is a great new site that does a fabulous job of project management. It’s completely browser-based, really easy to use, and has a free version. Cool videos too - I love it!

Anonymous said...

Is there way to export task list to image or html table. Regular merlin html export has javascript etc which doesnt work when I embed on twikis etc

Pharkie said...

To get an image: print to PDF then use Preview to crop away the GANTT to leave you with the task list, then save as JPG.

Wisdom said...

How are dealing with the very few custom reports? Are extending the reporting features?