ACT! 4: Visual QuickStart Guide

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Type of Book
Title: ACT! 4: Visual QuickStart Guide
Author: Steven Frank
Publisher: Peachpit Press
Pages: 368
ISBN: 0-201-35355-5
Price: $16.95

This book is a visual reference guide on ACT! 4, a contact-manager software. It covers every aspect of ACT! 4, from the absolute basics to the most sophisticated administrative tasks. The author, Steven Frank is an independent computer consultant and trainer. He has written other books on Kai's Power Tools and Illustrator 7. He addition, he has designed and authored software manuals and custom training materials for different organizations. The style of his writing is relaxed. He knows his subject and makes it enjoyable for the reader. Peachpit Press has a variety of other books in their Visual QuickStart Series. They are clear, visually-oriented guides that walk you step-by-step through the features of a program.
User Level
The book was written for a broad spectrum of ACT! users: beginning, intermediate, and advanced PC users. Beginners will appreciate the ordinary language it is written in, and the rich screen-shots which helps clarify ACT!'s features. Intermediate and advanced users will like the chapters on customizing the program, advanced reports, synchronizing data, and the Actdiag Utility.
Each chapter discusses a different aspect of ACT! and within each chapter are discrete sections (each clearly marked with edge-of-the-page labels) to help you understand and perform specific tasks. There are a generous number of illustrations for each task section. The book starts with the simplest topics and tasks, and gradually moves on to more advanced topics. The early and middle chapters will be most beneficial to beginning ACT! users, while later chapters will probably be more useful to experienced ACT! users. At the end of the book are three appendices covering topics that don't quite fit into the task-oriented chapters. Below, I will briefly describe what is covered in each chapter.

Chapter 1, ACT! Basics--covers such questions as What is ACT!?; What does A-C-T stand for?; and how can I get started as quickly as possible? This is an excellent chapter on installing the program. Many books and products just state, "put in the CD and answer the questions." That's their idea of installation information. This chapter walks you step-by-step through the process. Handy for those novice PC users who need hand-holding. It gives you tips on how to avoid common mistakes. There is also information on new features.

Chapter 2, Creating a Database--explains how to create a database, rename fields; create drop-down lists; editing and removing drop-down lists; setting defaults; field data types; formatting field data; setting data-entry rules; creating a primary field; creating a field history; and creating and deleting a field. The author is able to condense database creation to just the essentials to get you started and not overwhelm you.

Chapter 3, Managing Records--learn how to create and delete records; attach files; work with notes and history; and use contact lists. This chapter is one of the most important as it covers the basic features that you will use most frequently in maintaining you records.

Chapter 4, Working with Groups--learn how to create and delete groups which are custom subsets of your contact records; add and remove contacts to groups; view group information; attach and remove files to groups; add, edit, and remove group notes; and rename group files. The ability to create groups adds to the power of ACT!. Frequently, I will add a group or move a contact from one group to another. When I forget a step, it is easy to find the information in this chapter as each step is clearly defined.

Chapter 5, Lookups and Queries--this chapter focuses on three vital ACT! skills: sorting records, performing lookups, and creating advanced queries. The screen shots really help in this chapter. There are also numerous boxes with useful information on new terms, tips, and sort orders that help explain lookups and queries, a subject that might be confusing for beginners.

Chapter 6, Activities and Schedules--discusses ACT!'s scheduling abilities such as scheduling, modifying, and viewing activities; assigning new contacts to an activity; scheduling activities for many contacts or for groups; scheduling private or recurring activities; and setting alarms.

Chapter 7, ACT!'s Many Views--learn how to move from one view to another and how to get the most out of the views. This is an excellent chapter on working with the various ways to view information in ACT!. The author wisely separates the three more complex topics related to views--the calendar views, e-mail, and ACT's word-processing module--in their own chapters. Thus you are not given too much information in one chapter to digest. It is easier to use the book as a quick reference as the material is separated into separate tasks within their own section.

Chapter 8, Calendars--this chapter contains everything you would want to know about ACT!'s calendars such as viewing calendars; navigating within calendars; scheduling from calendars; clearing, restoring, and filtering calendar activities; working with mini-calendars; and printing calendars.

Chapter 9, Word Processing in ACT!--explains ACT!'s word processor module and discusses how to create and work with standard document types. Formatting procedures are explained, as well as tabs, headers and footers, placeholders, spell checks, dictionaries, and printing. Faxes and e-mail are covered in another chapter. Again, this separation of material makes it easier to grasp just the basics you need and to later use the book as a quick reference.

Chapter 10, Reports--discusses generating reports and making simple modifications to report templates. There is an excellent section on adding graphic objects to templates; formatting these objects; and moving, aligning, and resizing the objects.

Chapter 11, Staying in Contact--ACT!'s telephone, faxing and e-mail features are discussed in-depth. Learn how to configure the ACT! dialer; have ACT! dial the phone; and how to create a call history entry. Faxing features are explained, such as configuring ACT! for faxing; faxing single or multiple contacts, reports, and mail-merge faxes. E-mail features explained are: how to configure ACT! for e-mail; creating and sending e-mail messages; attaching files and records; and reading, replying to, and deleting e-mail.

Chapter 12, SideACT!--this supplementary program to ACT! is explain in this chapter. Learn how to enter, edit, clear, and print activities; set SideACT! preferences; and transfer list items to ACT!.

Chapter 13, Productivity Power Tools--this chapter deals with the various ways in which you can customize ACT! to suit your personal tastes or business needs. Learn to create or customize layouts; add, modify, or delete menus, toolbars, and keyboard shortcuts; and create macros to automate tasks. This chapter would appeal to previous users of ACT! who feel comfortable with the program and want to customize it for their own needs.

Chapter 14, Security and Backup--deals with two different types of protection: security and backup. Learn to set the security levels of users and to password-protect the database against unauthorized access.

Chapter 15, Exchanging Data--explains how to bring material from other databases into ACT!; understanding import and export file formats; mapping fields; and exchanging data with palmtop computers or electronic organizers.

Chapter 16, Advanced Reports--Chapter 10 discussed the basics of creating reports and this chapter explains the more technical aspects such as adding, editing, and deleting sections; using rulers and grids; adding summary fields; and defining filters.

Chapter 17, Synchronizing Data--learn the concepts, preparation and procedures involved in synchronizing two or more databases. Both direct and remote synchronization techniques are explained.

Appendix A, Preferences--discusses how to change ACT! preferences, such as general, colors and fonts, calendar, scheduling, e-mail, synchronization, name, startup, spelling, dialer, and WinFax preferences.

Appendix B, Help and Support--emphases the help features such as how to use online help; tech support do's and don'ts; accessing Symantec's web site; and using LiveUpdate.

Appendix C, The Actdiag Utility--explains this added utility that ships with ACT!. Learn how to diagnose databases for possible problems; reset databases that ACT! cannot open; and undelete those "gone forever" records.
Personal Comments
After installing ACT! 4, I read this book, first, to learn the program. Then I read the User's Guide that came with ACT!. Symantec's User's Guides are always excellent, but I wanted to compare the two and see how well I understood the program from the initial reading of this book. Symantec's User's Guide has approximately 560 pages and generally covers the same material. It has a little more information on certain features but I liked the Frank book better for learning the basics. Its conciseness made it easier to use. The material is well-organized in small chapters so you are not overwhelmed by too much information. Discussing simpler tasks in the beginning of the book, with more advanced features explained in the later chapters, works well. It makes it easier to look for specific material. You don't have to wade through pages explaining basic features when you want information on an advanced options. This is an excellent book for anyone interested in learning ACT! 4.

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