ACT! -- too much to too many?
Author: Larry Goldberg
Date: August , 1993
Keywords: Act database contact manager contacts schedule contact project software program application review
Text: I never liked those all-in-one stereo systems - I've always been an advocate of component systems because I felt you got better individual products with better features. I never liked software like Microsoft Works for this same reason. I feel that the individual components are adequate, but not really excellent by themselves. I suspected ACT! for the same reason. Promoted as a contacts manager with database capabilities, word processing & mail merge, schedule manager, report generator and project manager, it seemed that the product was trying to be too much to too many people. Well, on inspection and use this initial criticism is both true and false. To start with, like most database programs, you really need to read the manual - a step most Mac users avoid like the plague (I mean if you need to read manuals, why own a Mac!) ACT! is a very powerful and flexible program, but to use it requires a fair commitment of time and energy to learn the intricacies of use. Installation is easy with self compressing files and, like most new Mac software, it requires a fair amount of disk space (2.4 MB) and RAM (1.4 MB). Most of the files involve templates, layouts, tutorials and the like which can eventually be removed, but be aware of what you are removing in case you need a particular layout template for future use. This program provides a fairly straight-forward Rolodex-style database (figure 1) which can be customized to your own use. I found it interesting that while it provided over 20 spaces initially (with over 70 available optionally) for all sorts of information on a contact, it only initially provided one space for phone number when, in fact, most people have 2 or more numbers where they can be reached. It's relatively easy to merge databases or import and convert databases from other formats (including all dBase formats, WKS, ASCII delimited or text files). You can select various activities to conduct and schedule including phone calls, meetings, letters to write (with built-in word processor), to-do items and calendar scheduling. You can print calendars for the day, week or month (figure 2) and activity priorities (similar to many other to-do list schedulers). Search features are excellent with the ability to search by any field, priority or date of event. You can also customize a search by programming field names and values you're looking for into a special window (if you have a natural bent to programming). Scheduling can be easily conducted with ACT! and conflicts are flagged. Meetings can be identified by priority and alarms are set based on the lead time you program (that way you're reminded of a meeting an hour before hand so you can drive or get materials ready in time). Unfortunately, in order for the alarms to run ACT! needs to be running in the foreground (which is doubtful if you have limited RAM or don't use ACT! on a regular basis). If you're like me and have a million phone numbers to manage, ACT! is a good phone number database which provides another useful feature - an autodialer. Not since I used SideKick over five years ago have I seen a useful autodialer built into a database. It's not as handy as a pull-down utility, but it's useful if you have a lot of phone calling to do and are already working in the ACT! environment. ACT! also supports a word processor with spell checker which functions much the same as most word processors. It allows the import of files from most other word processors and also provides templates for typical business correspondence (including fax cover sheets, business letter templates and envelopes). Using the word processor you can prepare letters or memos for groups of people at the same time with the mail merge features. You can also import graphics pasted from the clipboard to a document (good for creating customized letterheads too). One nice feature of ACT! for those who work in multiple platform environments, ACT! changes files directly between DOS, Windows and Mac environments (it was originally developed for the Windows environment). My bottom line feelings about ACT! are that it's a moderately useful contact management utility if you're working in an environment with lots of contacts, schedules and data to manage, but less than intuitive or useful if you only need to use it once-in-a-while or have a small list of contacts to manage. Naturally, the hardest thing about getting full use out of a product like this is inputting all the data (which took me considerable time) and learning to use it in a routine manner. I felt there was too much documentation to learn and, while it's feature-rich, it's a product which violates my first rule of software - KISS (keep it simple, stupid!) It could be just as useful a product and far more user-friendly if it were stripped down to basic features and available as a pull-down utility instead of a full-blown program which hogs memory. It's a must-have if you're a professional salesperson, but a doubtful addition (especially at $250+) for the rest of us. ACT! available from Contact Software International. Suggested retail: $395 Street price: $249
Copyright © august , 1993 by Larry Goldberg