ACT! 6.0 Contact Manager
By Joel Shore
May 9, 2003
6.0 is program I very badly wanted to love. Now in its sixth
generation, ACT! is the product most-often mentioned when the
topic of contact-management software comes up.
Full of improvements in its overall fit and
finish, and blessed with a bevy of new features, the overall
experience, alas, is one of long-standing shortcomings remaining
unaddressed. And thatís truly too bad, because at its core, ACT!
is still king of the mountain at handling contactsófor
individual users. Unfortunately, ACT! 6.0 seems completely
unaware of todayís geographically scattered, wireless employees
who work via the Web.
ACT! 6.0 retains its general look, but
screens have been tweaked for a more sophisticated appearance.
As always, you can move fields (phone numbers, addresses, etc.)
around the screen and add additional ones. Outlook has never
been able to do that (and that wonít change in Office 2003).
Hereís some of whatís new in ACT! 6.0:
with 10 HTML templates
integration with Outlook
Ability to access,
view, and editor documents from within any contact record
Activity lookup to
tap inactive prospects
that provides event detail
with increased detail
View Web sites
from within ACT!
and Outlook calendars
Annual Event field type for birthdays,
anniversaries, expiration dates, etc.
The Look, The Feel
Many products have made a point of adopting the look of
Microsoftís Outlook e-mail and calendaring program, mainly the
vertical navigation bar at the left side of the screen. ACT! 6.0
is not different. But hold on. Outlook 2003, due in late summer
2003, is all new, completely redesigned, and looks very
different from what weíre used to. Emulate older versions of
Outlook and you emulate the past. (Of course, if you emulate,
you are, by definition, a follower, not a leader, but thatís
another story.) See for yourself:
The main contact screen in ACT! 6.0
is easy on the eyes and adopts the familiar "Outlook
Bar," look; the vertical navigation area to the left of the
Microsoft Outlook 2003 sports an
all-new design that fits a whopping 40% more into the same
screen space as prior versions. The Outlook Bar has been
completely redesigned, eliminating space-wasting icons.
Great Contact Management
Youíd expect a contact manager to be superb at handling
contacts. ACT! 6.0 does not disappoint. You can add fields,
define the field entry order, and move fields around on the
screen. You can sort, group, and find contacts in many ways,
limited only by your imagination. You can group contact (all
employees for one company, for example) and then break that
group into sub-groups (say, regional offices).
You can link files (a PowerPoint presentation or a Word
document, for example) to contacts. Beware though, these are
just pointers to where that file resides; itís not included in
your ACT! database and wonít be sent to any other with whom you
synchronize contacts. Thatís pretty poor. If a file resides on a
server, it should be accessible by anyone, anywhere, and at any
time, so long as one has the access rights to do so.
ACT! is most often compared with
GoldMine. Both products compete in the same price bracket and
for the same mid-level user. While this new version of ACT! is
much cleaner looking than prior incarnations, it just doesnít
measure up to GoldMine in the area of realtime workgroup collaboration.
A little history.
Developed in 1986, ACT! for DOS was designed for individual
users. Following the 1990 release of Microsoft Windows 3.0, ACT!
for Windows arrived in 1992. Though the costs of PC-based
networking had already started to drop, ACT! remained a product for the
individual. By contrast, GoldMine, was created by someone who had
worked for Banyan, the now-defunct networking company. Given
that background, GoldMine was conceived from the ground up for
use in a networked environment, by simultaneous multiple users. ACT!
has been taken to task over the years for not catching up. When
it comes to multiuser operation, it still lags far behind.
Thereís really very little in the ACT!
Userís Guide that discusses the concept of sharing contact
information in real time. Ten pages of the manualóa
complete chapter, in factóis devoted to synchronizing usersí databases
with each other, an outdated concept that can be unwieldy and
difficult to keep straight. (Did I sync with Patrick? And did
Patrick sync with Stephanie? And on and on.)
Oddly, the manual does mention the far
superior idea of sharing data via a multiuser database, and
refers the reader to another place in the manual (page 95), where a scant
two pages is devoted to the concept. If you choose to go for the
multiuser database, be sure that all users upgrade to version
6.0. Thatís because 5.0 and 6.0 users cannot
share the same database.
And then thereís
this, taken directly from the ACT! tech support Web site: "We
neither support nor recommend accessing ACT! databases over
dial-up connections, virtual private networks (VPNs), or wide
area networks (WANs)." I agree that dial-up is undesirable,
but only because itís slow. But
a VPN or a WAN? These are modern, high-speed, secure, means of
communications. Is this a deliberate repudiation of the
technologies on which todayís business rely, or could it perhaps
be an admission that it was just too hard do? Either way, itís
Compared with the highly network-savvy GoldMine, itís a real
shame to see that ACT! has made so little progress into
the age of collaborative computing.
Microsoft, with its SharePoint Services platform running on
Windows Server 2003, is bringing workgroup computing and
worldwide sharing of documents to a new level of sophistication
and simplicity. While ACT! is busy warning users of all the
things itís not capable of doing, Microsoft is installing the
plumbing that allows any software product to be Web-centric.
Doesnít Quite Deliver
Creating e-mail within ACT! 6.0 is a curious experience. I
think itís fair to say that the vast majority of knowledge
workers today create their e-mail using Microsoft Outlook. A
lesser (though still significant) number uses e-mail clients such as Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, or Eudora.
When you use ACT!, it becomes its own e-mail client. Unlike
Outlook, which seamlessly uses Word for composing messages, ACT!
pops-up its own proprietary word processoróand in a separate
window. Iím not sure why that
is, but I am sure that I donít want two word processors on my
system, thank you. Viewing mail is done in a pop-up window; that
shouldnít be necessary.
Though the line between ACT! and Outlook are miles away from
being seamless, the relationship between the two programs is
improved. When using Outlook, you can access your ACT! contact
database. Itís a good thing, too. Thatís because the ACT! e-mail
function canít filter out spam or have dozens of user-defined
mail-handling rules the way Outlook can.
There are other problems, too. The 6.0.3 update is not just a
compendium of bug fixes. According the included readme file,
nine new features are included, in addition to performance
improvements. Why this many new features in what is essentially
a patch? Itís a clear indication to me that 6.0 shipped long
before it was finished and that 6.0.3 includes what never made
it into the cardboard box.
And how about this: "When sending e-mail from Microsoft Outlook
using your ACT! database as an address book, Microsoft Word
cannot be used as the e-mail editor." This is a direct quote
from the 6.0.3 readme file.
must question a specific design decision. The ACT! tech support Web site
discusses the problem "Cannot Create New, Reply, or Send e-mail
After Updating to ACT! 6.0.3.x."
out that the format for e-mail signatures introduced in version
6.0 has already been changed. It now allows multiple signatures. Great idea.
But why now? Clearly, the people behind this program donít (or
canít) think very far ahead. For a downloadable update to render
a format in the just-released major new version obsolete is a
monumental blunder. And the workaround is laughable: you are
recommended to create an additional signature, one that
might contain just a space or a period. Thatís outright
amateur-league. And if that fix doesnít work, if you
are "unable to add a signature to ACT!, you will need to edit
the system registry." Is that something an end-user should
do? Not a chance. Thatís flat-out unacceptable in a product
now in itís sixth generation. Itís a mess.
End of the Line?
ACT! has a long heritage of excellence as a
contact manager, and ACT! 6.0 succeeds in extending that track
record. You can store lots of information about each of your
customers, set reminders, link documents, and more. But as a
long-awaited major update to a cherished business tool, Iím
sorry to say that ACT! 6.0 is a failure.
This once great platform is so ignorant of Web-based, realtime
sharing of contacts, files, appointments, and tasks, it makes
one wonder whatís planned for version 7.0óor if the developers
should even bother. Based on what is present inóand missing
fromóversion 6.0, one must wonder if this company is even
capable of developing such a product. Doing so would likely
require throwing away much of the current code.
Considering the tone of this review, I must step away from my
posture of impartiality in the interest of fairness and full
disclosure. I am a longtime user of ACT! and wrote glowing
reviews of prior versions. The folks at ACT! with whom Iíve had
contact since the early 1990s are delightful, conscientious,
If there is to be a version 7, it had better allow users in New
York, Tokyo, Paris, and on ships at sea to share all and see
all, and do it in real time, with Web-based databases that
eliminate the archaic practice of user file synchronization. Sad
to say, ACT! 6.0 is poorly executed product that is way, way
behind the times. <