The San Mateo, California, company echoes competitors like LiquidPlanner in declaring Project as something too complicated for most users' needs.
Starting this week, Clarizen is dangling a potentially tempting new carrot -- big discounts for Project customers who switch.
"Microsoft Project may be a great tool for some people. But for most people, it's just not," said Eran Aloni, vice president of product marketing.
Users can import Microsoft Project data into Clarizen. The software lets them survey their project's progress, plan budgets and create reports. It also incorporates collaborative features such as "wiki-like" notes and discussion boards. Other features include e-mail alerts for matters such as upcoming deadlines.
The company uses a per-user monthly license model, but also allows non-licensed users to have a degree of interaction with the system. Project progress reports can be sent to non-licensed users, who can then update the status of their assigned tasks via e-mail.
Despite Clarizen's marketing strategy, it has ties to Microsoft. Its Web application employs Microsoft's ASP.NET development framework, and the company has joined the company's Startup Accelerator program.
Aloni insisted that Clarizen is presenting itself as an alternative, not a direct competitor to Project.
One Clarizen customer echoed the notion.
"Nothing against Project, but it's like hitting a tack with a sledgehammer," said Hal Anderson, CTO of 24-By-7 Service, a Colorado firm that provides telecom system maintenance and services. "We're not in desperate need of all the high-end features of a Project."
Prior to Clarizen, the company used Excel to manage jobs, he said.
The company recently won an engagement with the city government of Lakewood, Colorado, he said. It will be managing that community's existing phone system while conducting a public bidding and procurement process for a new one, which it will then install.
An assortment of vendors and parties will "all have to be kept on the same page as we move through this eight-month project," he said.
Anderson singled out the e-mail feature, calling it an "over the top home run."
Clarizen now has about 150 paying customers with an average six to seven licenses each, according to Aloni.
In a statement, a Microsoft spokesman did not directly address Clarizen, instead stressing that Microsoft's offerings can also be delivered in hosted form.
"In addition to, or as an alternative to on-premises deployment of Project Server, Microsoft Enterprise Project Management (EPM) Solution 2007 and 2003 can be bought in on-demand form through partners," it reads in part. "Shared environments can be cost-effective for very small deployments whereas larger deployments would more likely benefit from dedicated environments."
Clarizen costs US$50 per user per month for the first 10 licenses, with the price dropping to $35 each for the 11th through 30th license and $25 for the 31st and up.
New customers who switch from Microsoft Project can get up to $300 off those prices for committing to at least one year; the deal is limited to the first 10 licenses.