ACT! 4.0

"A State of the Art

Contact Management Program"

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Type of Product
Symantec's ACT! 4.0 is a contact-management package and more. ACT! is a Rolodex, calendar, and personal assistant all in one, and it is customized specifically for business contacts. It would be perfect for sales-people to stockbrokers, real estate agents to writers, small business owners to corporate CEOs. Each contact in ACT! has a record in the database, and its built-in fields all pertain to contact information such as name, title, phone number, and e-mail address. In addition ACT! has a build-in word processor so that you can write letters and reports; an e-mail module for sending and receiving electronic correspondence; a note/history module for any relevant notes and history of all e-mail, phone calls or changes to a contact record; and a calendar/scheduling module for making and tracking appointments and other activities. Price: $199.95; Upgrade is $89.95.
User Level
ACT! can by used by virtually anyone, from beginning PC users with a basic knowledge of Windows to Intermediate and Advanced users. You don't have to be a computer person to use it effectively. Features that make it easy to use for a novice are: the user-friendly interface; its ready to use aspect as ACT! 4.0 comes with 70 pre-defined fields and 8 pre-built layouts; and the ViaGrafix multimedia training module with 12 short videos on ACT! features. The videos are in-depth enough to get you up and running, but still easy for a novice to learn the system quickly. Intermediate and Advanced users will appreciate the customizable elements. Almost every aspect of the program, from database structure, fields, sorting, lookups, reports, and toolbars can be customized for the specific needs of individual users.
New Features & Enhancements
    • Better Internet Capabilities--ACT! can access popular Internet business sites and Internet directories by automatically launching your default Web browser and feeding it the information it needs to take you where you need.

    • Better E-mail--easier to set up e-mail addresses; supports Eudora Pro and direct Internet e-mail.

    • SideACT!--can now enter activity data without having to launch the full ACT! application. Data entered into SideACT! can be easily transferred to your ACT! 4.0 database.

    • Mail Merge--performing a mail merge has been simplified. You can perform all the steps of a mail merge in one dialog box called the Mail Merge dialog box. You can perform a mail merge for a selected group and send the output to a word processor to preview it before printing or sending it.

    • Easier Backup--more options for backing up database data, envelopes, layouts and reports. Users can now back up to floppy disks or a network drive and can set an automatic reminder to help remember to backup on a regular schedule.

    • Improved WinFax Integration--more closely integrated. Users can directly track WinFax events in ACT! contact history.

    • Scheduling and Managing Activities Enhancements--you can add a new contact as you schedule an activity or record a history. Blocking out an entire day or more on a calendar for an activity is easier.

    • Easier Data Synchronization--there is a Synchronization Wizard to make it as easy as possible to synchronize your data with other users.

    • Improved Display and Printing--new menu commands and interface elements make it easier to see, sort, filter and print your data.

    • Enhanced Lookups--new tag mode in the contact list view; users now have the ability to lookup by example in the contact list, task list, calendar windows and e-mail window, which provides more flexibility and power in performing custom lookups.

    • Easier to Set Up--QuickStart Wizard to help you setup ACT!

    • Training Materials--includes multimedia training by ViaGrafix on the most commonly performed tasks and procedures. For convenience, the multimedia training is accessible from the Help menu or from many dialog boxes.

ACT! 4.0 has so many features, it would be difficult to describe them all, so I will discuss the basic elements and then what we found beneficial for us and how ACT! fills our business needs.

Installation--It was very easy to install, and the complete installation takes up less than 33 MB.When you first launch ACT! after installing it, you are presented with a QuickStart Wizard that walks you through the process of setting up ACT! to insure that your system is correctly configured for ACT! You select a word processing program, fax software, and an e-mail system.

ACT! has simple steps for installing and configuring the software. We got up and running quickly.We didn't want to spend extra time configuring ACT! for our system and we liked the QuickStart Wizard and the ease in which we could select options for our needs.

Interface--The interface is user-friendly and has many features that can be customized. ACT! offers numerous ways to view different aspects of your data, as well as several separate sets of controls for tasks and views. When you first open a database, ACT! displays one contact record in the contact window. A typical Windows menu bar, with commands for numerous tasks, runs along the very top of the screen. There is a toolbar just below the menu bar that consists of 17 buttons that give you quick access to common commands. A set of window icons in the lower-right corner let you switch between ACT!'s eight different windows which are: the main contact database view; a contact list window that shows you the basic data for all of your contacts in list format; a Groups window for viewing information about groups of contacts; three different calendar windows; a comprehensive task list view; and an e-mail window. The middle area of the screen has field labels that identify data fields that contain information about your contacts. The bottom half of the screen contains additional information about a contact. You can change the view in the bottom half by clicking on one of the seven tabs at the bottom of the window. The tabs are notes/history, activities, groups, user fields, phone/home, all contacts, and status. Each tab displays different kinds of information. For example the activities tab will display all scheduled activities and the phone/home tab will show fields where you can include additional phone numbers and a contact's home address.

Database Layout--You can use the prebuilt layouts that are provided with ACT! for your database, modify one for your use, or create a totally new layout. The eight prebuilt layouts are: Alternate, Classic Contact 1, Classic Contact 2, Contact Layout (16-color), Contact Layout 3.0, Contact Layout 4.0, Large Font, and Modern. The image to the right is the Modern design. You can also create more than one if needed.

Since we are a fairly new business, all of our business data had been stored on paper: slips of paper, piles of paper, drawers of paper; and a file cabinet full of paper. We wanted to convert all of this material to a computer database, and we wanted the information to be available for use as soon as possible. So, we needed a program that could be used right from the package and then modified as we went along and determined our needs. ACT! 4.0 gave us that flexibility. We used a prebuilt layout and modified it as we entered our data and determined what fields we needed. ACT! provides enough pre-defined fields for most individuals and the User 1 through User 15 fields, which are readily available custom fields that you can rename and use for assorted material, came in very handy.

Defining Fields--The type of data entered into a field can affect how that field is sorted and how searches are performed within that field so ACT! provides various options for defining fields. Also, defining fields eliminates data-entry inconsistencies.

    • You can select a field's data type such as: character, currency, date, initial capitals, lowercase & uppercase, numeric, phone, time, and URL address.Thus a date field will accept only date-type data or a phone field will accept only phone-type data.
    • You can create a field format. Placeholder characters, which is basically a template, can be used to represent the actual data that can be entered and how it should appear. Thus all phone numbers or dates would be entered in the same format.
    • You can define a field's size. You can use from 1 to 254 for character fields and from 1 to 19.5 for numeric fields.
    • Data-entry rules can be set to determine if the field data can be: (1) protected--cannot be changed; (2) only from drop-down menu--cannot be typed into the field; (3) required--field cannot be left blank; and (4) none--no data-entry rules.
    • If you have a field whose content is important enough that you need to keep a record of when it changes, you can define that field as a history field. Whenever the content of a history field is changed, an entry is added to that contact's Notes/History tab indicating which field was changed, the date when the change was made, and what the field data was changed to.

Since we are a business with a variety of staff using the database, we wanted consistency in data entered and ACT!'s defining field options came in handy. We didn't have one staff member putting in a date as Jan.15 and another using 1/15/99 or one individual typing a phone number with an area code in parentheses and another not even using an area code. One of the most important features for us was the ability to define certain fields as a history field. We needed a program that could keep track of changes to a record and could do it automatically to cut down our time.

Entering Data--New contacts can be added to a database at any time. You can type in all new information or make a duplicate contact and select the information to be duplicated for the new contact. Many of the fields have a drop-down list from which you can choose an entry instead of typing it in. You can even just type the first one or two letters of an item on the list and ACT! automatically fills the field with the item that starts with those letters. You can modify a field's drop-down list and add your own information. The drop-down list speeds up the contact data entry process and helps keep consistency in data information. ACT! makes modifying records easy and quick. You can change multiple records at the same time; swap contact information between fields without manually copying or pasting; and copy contact information between fields.

Again, these features made the product perfect for us as it was easy to enter data, but we were not locked into a setup that was appropriate for us when we first started using ACT! but not appropriate after we had been using the program for some time. We had the flexibility of modifying our data and easily moving our information around in fields as we used the program.

Notes/History--ACT! allows you to attach notes to your contact records. You can enter any kind of information as a note, and the note stays attached to the contact record unless it is deleted. There is no limitation on size and content of notes that can be attached. ACT! makes it easy to keep track of all your relationships with a contact as you can keep a history of changes made to contact records and even attach documents to a contact's history file. ACT! has three ways to put information or documents in a history file: (1) any changes made to defined history fields are saved; (2) sent documents, sent e-mail, made or received phone calls are automatically saved by ACT!; and (3) as documents such as e-mail or faxes are received, you can select to save them in a history file.

The ability to keep unlimited notes and a history file for each contact makes ACT! an indispensable tool for us. We wanted one program that could keep track of all our contacts with a company or person whether it was letters, phone calls, e-mail, faxes, ordering, pricing, dates, etc. Some of our information was perfect for the database contact record fields, some was more appropriate for notes. And we wanted all e-mail and fax data, sent and received, to be attached to a contact's record. On a scale of 1-10 for ACT!'s ability to handle all sorts of information that can be easily entered and retrieved, we give ACT! an 11.

Viewing Contact Lists--You can move from one record to another but it is also convenient to locate a particular contact by simply looking at a list of all contacts and ACT! allows you to do this. You can return to the contact view of a particular record simply by double-clicking on the gray selection box for that record. You can sort the entries in the contact list view in ascending alphanumeric order by company name, name, title, city, state or Zip code.

Groups--Subsets of your contact records can be created as groups. This makes it easy to select just those records when you need them. You can create groups for different mailings; create groups that reflect top customers or hottest prospects; and create groups to separate contacts in different industries or aspects of business.You can then print reports for all the records in the group, send form letters or mass faxes to group members, and create fields to store data that is specific to that group. ACT! also lets you write group notes, record group history entries, and even schedule group activities.

Since we review numerous items, we used ACT!'s group feature to separate our contact records into such groups as software, hardware, books, services, etc. It was very convenient to be able to attach notes to a group.

Lookups and Queries--ACT! makes sorting your records easy and provides a variety of ways to sort material. Sort requests can be either simple single-level sorts which are one field, or multi-level sorts which are up to three different fields. Lookups can be by first or last name, company name, city, state, zip code, phone number, or a special code. You can perform a quicksort specifying no search criteria or a standard sort with the traditional sort command and dialog box. Lookups cannot be saved but the subset of records can be saved as a group. For a very specific lookup using criteria from several fields, you can do a custom multi-field lookup called a query.

ACT!'s searching capabilities are extensive; we could find contacts instantly by using multiple criteria, groups, or a keyword.

Activities and Schedules--ACT! allows you to track upcoming activities and display these activities in multiple report and calendar formats. You can easily schedule one-time or recurring activities.You can schedule phone calls, meetings, and to-do activities and they can be all done from three buttons. It is easy to edit these activities, set alarms for them, reschedule them, or clear them from your records. All settings for scheduled activities can be done from one dialog box. You can add a new contact to your database while scheduling an activity.You can also schedule activities right from the calendar if you wish. New activities can be set or you can reschedule activities by the simple drag and drop method. The to-do list is essential. Any activities that are uncompleted that day revert to the following day. Alarms that are set to remind you that an important activity is going to take place will appear over any other program if you have ACT! running in the background. You can set priorities for activities: high, medium, or low and set their color.

Since we were using ACT! before we had all of our contact information recorded, we sometimes scheduled an activity for a company or person before we had entered them into our database. We found it convenient to add our contact data as we were scheduling an activity.

Calendars--There are three calendar views: day, week, and month. All three views are divided into four basic parts. The top of each display has a toolbar with standard buttons for opening and printing, scheduling activities, moving forward or backward, creating lookups and filtering, and accessing SideACT!, and the online help system. Underneath the toolbar is the main display area with all scheduled activities displayed in a daily, weekly, or monthly format. To the right of the main display area are a mini-calendar and a data area. The mini-calendar is used to navigate within the calendar displays and the detail area underneath it shows much more information about the selected day's activities. Only a keystroke is needed to switch between daily, weekly, and monthly views. You can arrange and filter your task list any way, then print it. You can print your own address book or calendar in 30 popular formats such as Daytimer.

Word Processing--Many of your day-to-day business documents, letters, memos, faxes, reports, and e-mail messages, can be created in ACT! Once created, these documents can be saved, edited, or printed using standard word-processing skills. You can also use other applications such as Microsoft Word or WordPerfect. ACT! comes with many templates to use for documents. There is a letter template that includes placeholders for the contact's name, company, address, city, state, and Zip code, as well as the salutation and complimentary close. You can create templates of your own design, or you can create a blank document not based on any template. The word-processor has formatting and typographical options and is familiar if you have used any word processor.

Reports--You can generate a wide variety of useful reports with ACT!. These reports can be a simple phone list or a thorough and complete printout of all contact data, or all activities and time spent for weeks, months, or even years. There are 12 different report templates including task list, contact directory, and phone list. You can also edit existing reports for your needs or even create custom reports from scratch. You can add graphics.

ACT!'s templates helped us create reports immediately. And as we used the program and had more time, we could then create our own from scratch. Again, we were not stuck to a certain layout as our needs changed.

Telephone Features--ACT! can dial the phone for you and time and log all calls. ACT! supports Caller ID and other features such as hold, speaker phone, call forward, call transfer, if you have them available on you phone and modem. If you enable the "Lookup contact using Caller ID" checkbox in Dialer preferences, ACT! will "listen" for the Caller ID information on all incoming calls. Whenever a call comes in with this information, ACT! will create a lookup of all contacts with the incoming phone number and will bring up the record for the person who is calling you. You will have all your information, activities, and notes available as you speak. Also, ACT! can make your calls for you if you use the dialer dialog box. With ACT! you can log all incoming and outgoing calls which creates history entries in the contact records. There is also a timer that lets you track just how long you are spending on each call.

Fax Features--WinFax Pro and ACT!, both from Symantec, have been designed to work together in a seamless fashion. So if you have WinFax Pro as your faxing software, you can use ACT! databases as WinFax phonebooks, have WinFax create history entries and activities in your ACT! database, and even attach faxes to your contact records as files. Also, ACT! works well with other faxing programs such as Microsoft Fax. You have all the usual options of faxing documents to a single contact or to multiple contacts and sending mail-merge faxes. Reports can also be easily faxed.

We needed a program that worked well with WinFax Pro as that is what we used. ACT!'s fax features were great for us. It was easy to use, and we did not have to spend time creating multiple records for ACT! and WinFax Pro.

E-Mail--Creating e-mail messages is a snap. ACT! supports cc:Mail, CompuServe, Microsoft Exchange, Eudora Pro, and direct Internet connections. For sending an e-mail to one person, you just go to the contact record for that person, then select the e-mail message command from the write menu. If you want to send a message to multiple contacts, you can select addresses from the address book. Anyone familiar with sending and receiving e-mail messages in other programs, will find similar features in ACT!. For instance, you can create your e-mail and send it immediately, or you can create your message and save it in the drafts folder to be sent at a later time. Further options such as create history, return receipt, and attach to contact(s) are available. You can add a new contact directly from a received e-mail message.

We needed to keep track of incoming e-mail messages and have quick access to them. As we read incoming e-mail, we had the option of attaching the message to a contact record. Thus we had both incoming and outgoing messages attached to the appropriate contact. We did not have to make separate files or search through a pile for the e-mail messages. We can print this material and have a complete history of our contacts with a company. Adding a new contact directly from a received e-mail message worked for us as we were receiving e-mail from companies before we had them entered into our database. This was a convenient way to keep up with entering contacts.

SideACT!--SideACT! is a supplementary program to ACT! that can run both within and outside the main program. It is a "to-do list" utility for storing and recording activities quickly and easily. It is small, fast, and easily accessible. The SideACT! window is fairly simple. Across the top are a menu bar and toolbar for saving and printing. In addition, there are buttons for entering an activity, changing activity type, moving or copying an item to ACT! or even launching ACT! from SideACT!. Below the toolbar is a text area where you type in your activity descriptions. The bottom of the window is the to-do list itself. Each item is listed in the order in which it was entered, along with the description, date, and type. At the far left of each entry is a selection symbol and a completed checkbox. You can create different lists for your business and personal activities. You can edit lists, reorder lists, print lists, and then copy them to ACT!. It is easy to move or copy entries to ACT! You can even select a list of items to move, and drag them directly from SideACT! into ACT!.

We have found SideACT! beneficial as a convenient place to jot down quick notes and telephone numbers instead of having slips of paper all around. Also, we use it to keep track of our daily deliveries. As we receive products during the day, we note the time, date, item name, and company name in SideACT!. At the end of the day or the next morning we then transfer the data to ACT!. Thus the person receiving mail and keeping track of it in SideACT! doesn't have to even know ACT! but it is easily available for entry into ACT!. The material is centrally located for all the staff to see and anyone can enter the data. Thus items are not just put in a pile and then forgotten.

Exchanging Data--ACT! can handle a number of different file formats and has some handy features for making sure that the right information goes into the desired fields when you transfer records. You can merge different ACT! databases. You can bring in thousands of contact records from a Microsoft Access database, transfer a dozen records from a handheld electronic organizer, or export a selected ACT! lookup to Microsoft Word for mail merging. ACT! has an import wizard that helps you import data from other applications. For data from another program that is saved in a different manner, you can use contact maps which tell ACT! where to put material. You select a field that is being imported and tell ACT! which field in your database is equivalent to it. You can even save the map for later use so if you ever need to import another file that's in the same format, you can just load the map and all of your data will go straight into the correct fields. There is also an export wizard to guide you through exporting records from ACT!.

Synchronizing Data--This is the process of transferring contact information from one database to one or more other databases, such as when a user has both a laptop and a desktop computer. Without synchronization, every time the user returns to the office from a trip, he or she would have to locate all records created on the laptop and reenter them into the desktop machine or vice versa. If the user synchronized the two databases, both databases would be updated to include all records, and even to reflect any changes made to existing records. There is direct synchronization where update information is sent virtually simultaneously from one database to the other, with no intermediary. You can even have remote synchronization, the exchange of contact information between two or more databases via e-mail, a shared location, or a modem connection.

Internet Integration--You can access the Internet and download information about contacts from Internet sources like WhoWhere, Yahoo! and Bigfoot. You can find addresses of potential contacts and download them directly to your contact database. For instance you can quickly locate driving directions through Yahoo or other Internet directories by automatically filling in both addresses.

Personal Comments
PC Cafe was looking for one program that could take the place of all our paper files; handle a variety of type of information such as addresses, phone numbers, e-mail addresses, Websites, contact histories, order histories, dates, and prices; have easy data entry features; be ready-to-use right out of the box; had templates; had features that could be easily and extensively modified; had calendar and note features; had various printable reports; had e-mail and fax features; and would let us retrieve our material quickly. We have been pleased with the program and its features. Most of the features are very intuitive. All of ACT!'s database maintenance features are wizard-based. Yet the program is flexible enough to let us modify its features as needed.
System Requirements
Processor: 486 or higher
Operating System: Windows 95 or Windows NT 4.0
Memory: 8 MB RAM
Hard Disk Space: 30 MB

Graphics: DeMorgan WebSpice 1,000,000 Page Design Edition
Web Page Editor: Symantec Visual Page