Hosted Issue Tracking: FogBugz and BitBucket (JIRA)

About 4 years ago, I wrote a blog post about my search for an open source PHP bug tracking solution. I settled on FlySpray and I was only using it casually. I never fully committed to using it because it still didn’t seem like a final solution.

Now, 4 years later a bit older, a bit wiser and with a business that is slowly but steadily growing I am facing this issue again. Issue tracking is the first step in many services I need to get settled on (CRM and Project Management included). In the past I had no doubts that I needed to install and host these services myself. On my servers and with open code that I could tweak to my heart’s content.

Well, with now several different OSS programs in use, the maintenance overhead has become a problem. Not to mention that these solutions while awesome and Free, often do not get updated often enough. Even if they did, the burden would be on me to do the upgrades. Most don’t have one click upgrading like the lovely Pwik visitor stats program.

So, I have come to the place that most mature and wise companies reach… time to outsource services like these to the experts. Hosted services here we come! Hiring an external company to run your issue tracking software is like having a whole department dedicated to this, without the cost! If the company is well established with some big name clients I figure my paranoid need to do everything myself can give it a rest.

Starting with Issue/Bug Tracking seemed like the easiest way to begin. I need something simple and clean, with the ability to submit bugs via an external API so I can integrate it into my customer support panel. Bonus if it can do the duty for our growing collection of public Open Source projects at too. Oh, and here’s the catch that really narrowed the field, our budget is still tight so it needs a free version which limits the # of users not the # of projects.

After much browsing and searching we settled on two very strong contenders: FogBugz by FogCreek and BitBucket (JIRA) by Atlassian.

FogBugz offers an extremely feature rich and robust issue tracking system. It can filter issues submitted by email, has many issue sorting and filtering options and can even condense repeat bugs into a single issue automatically. It has a full API and you can integrate a 3rd website to send issues into your FogBugz instance. The hosted solution is free for up to 2 users with no limits. They even have an advanced looking code analysis solution included. Very cool!

Atlassian offers a free service through the well known BitBucket which includes the Jira issue tracking solution. While it does offer clean issue tracking its focus is on hosted source code repositories for Git and Mercurial. Not sure if I will use that, but Mercurial is what I’m currently using so that’s fortunate. There is an API allowing external submission of issues, but unfortunately you have fewer options to manage your issues. For example you can’t move an issue from one project to another- negating my plan to have one project dedicated to just collecting submitted bugs waiting to be triaged and processed. You can set the code repos to private and the issue tracker to public if you wish, and it’s a good fit for our collection of both private projects and OSS ones. It’s free for up to 5 users, with unlimited private and public repos (projects). Awesome!

I had almost settled on the FogBugz solution due to it’s excellent bug management features, when a lightbulb went off and I realized I better double check the pricing of the licenses for more users in case I get well established into one of these solutions and my company grows. How much will they cost me? Here’s where FogBugz completely knocked me over. At the time I wrote this article Fogbugz was $25 per user per month. So if I had a PM, 2 developers and 2 testers – by my account a single small team – it would already be at $125/month. For a small business this is a deal breaker. Especially since I still need to find hosted solutions for CRM, project management/agile planning, and others. I realized that FogBugz is geared more toward much larger companies with heavily used support departments churning through many consumer submitted issues per day. For a small startup it might be expensive overkill.

Jira is $10 per month for the first 10 users at the time of this writing. They also have a similarly priced agile development planning solution and several others that look to be just what I need. Also reasonably priced. That settled it, combined with the great features for my OSS projects that BitBucket offers and the other pros in its favour, I can work around the source code repo features I don’t need and focus on BitBucket’s issue management for now and probably begin to use more of their other features in the future.

Do you have a recommendation for what your company is using? What are your must have features for hosted business solutions? Post a comment and let me know!