Task management: An apparently unwritten program

This is another entry in my series of programs I need that apparently don’t yet exist. With the previous two, it’s a combination of unusual requirements and sheer scale, and there appeared to be nothing even in the same category (though I’ve since discovered something that looks ideal for one except for the scale). With this, there are lots of programs in the same category, so I suspect that I’m overlooking something, or maybe it’s just that some of my requirements fit XP, Agile, or some similar project management style and others fit the Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy, and as far as I can see nobody else has even thought about combining them. If you know of a program that fits my needs, please let me know!

I’ve found that the best way to keep myself productive is to organize what I need and want to do into manageable tasks, make lists of them, and check them off. Pivotal Tracker has been tremendously helpful, but it’s lacking in several areas. Tracks is almost ideal, but has a few critical flaws. Below I outline what I want in a task management application.

  • It either runs on Linux, my primary operating system (though running on Windows too would be a bonus), or is a web application I don’t have to host myself. I don’t run a web server normally–I don’t even have one installed on this machine–and don’t want to.
  • It can handle upwards of thousands of tasks without trouble. At one point I had over eight hundred items in my Pivotal Tracker project for the background of my fiction writing; that number has since gone up, since many of them were “create stories [i.e. tasks] for such-and-such.” Strategic Primer, my strategy game and another major project I’ve applied this to, doesn’t have nearly so many but still has over a hundred tasks.

    This is where Tracks, and the few promising desktop applications I’ve tried, really fall down. I tried to import the “Shine Cycle background” project into Tracks (converting the Tracker XML export format into Tracks’ XML import format in a batch by hand; see below), and it appeared to succeed but nearly ground to a halt.

  • It can support dependencies between tasks, and can be configured to only show tasks without unmet dependencies, or at least won’t allow a task to be scheduled before one of its dependencies. This is one of the two things I really wish Pivotal Tracker did.
  • It has an API, so that I can get my thousands of tasks into it easily and so I can get my data out of it if I need to later (and for backups). A more robust API that would let me create a desktop client (for a web-app) if I wanted to would be even better; this is one place Tracker appears to excel.
  • It supports task “weight” and project “velocity.” This is why Tracker has been so helpful for me: I can treat it as a game and make the calculated “velocity” a target I’m trying to beat. If I can’t at least see some statistics, I’m less likely to try to keep up.
  • It supports “epics,” super-tasks that I have to break down into smaller tasks later, but not necessarily when I add the epic. This is the other thing I wish Pivotal Tracker did; I’ve approximated it with Chores saying “create stories for such-and-such,” which has actually worked rather well, but real support for epics would be better. [Update: Tracker now supports “epics,” but merely as a grouping of tasks that’s a label with extra information attached, not as something that actually goes in to backlog.]
  • It supports recurring tasks, which can still become overdue but keep recurring. There are some things that can’t easily be described uniquely but that I want to do some quantifiable amount of each week. For instance, I have a tub full of old newspapers I wanted to clip something from; I want to deal with five of them each week.
  • I’d prefer if the program were free and open source software, so that I can (at least in theory) extend it to suit my needs better.

Does anyone know of any program that fits even most of my requirements?

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