Best Software overhauls Act, unveils premium edition

By Stacy Cowley, IDG News Service |  Small Business

Best Software Inc. launched this week an overhaul of its Act contact management software, adding to the product line a second version with more scalability and advanced functionality.

Tuesday's release of Act 2005 marks the first major update in several years of the popular contact management software, for which Best Software claims a registered user base of more than 2 million customers. The software has been completely rewritten on Microsoft Corp.'s .Net platform and built around a SQL database, to modernize its architecture and increase its scalability. Best Software also updated the aging software's user interface.

First introduced in 1985, Act is one of the CRM (customer relationship management) software market's original ancestors. Thanks to its availability in retail stores and relative ease of use, Act's software for managing customer and contact details became a widely used alternative to scribbled notes and Excel spreadsheets.

Act has been through a number of ownership changes in its nearly two decades on the market, but it appears to have found a stable home at Best Software, a unit of U.K. software company Sage Group PLC. In 2001, Irvine, California-based Best Software scooped up Act's then-parent SalesLogix, which sells an eponymous higher-end CRM system.

Bouncing around from owner to owner stymied Act's development, but Best Software executives say they're committed to the software, which they see anchoring their broader portfolio of CRM products. To underscore that commitment, the company staged a splashy launch Tuesday in New York's Times Square to herald the arrival of Act 2005.

In addition to refurbishing Act's core software, Best Software is adding a new, higher-end version, called Act 2005 Premium for Workgroups. The new product is intended to help organizations bridge the gap between contact management and full-fledged CRM.

Act 2005, which carries a retail price of US$230, is intended for groups of up to 10 users and can manage up to 50,000 contacts, an increase from earlier versions. Act 2005 Premium, priced at $400, is intended for up to 50 users and can handle 100,000 contacts. The Premium edition features additional group-collaboration tools, such as support for data synchronization to a central database and the ability to restrict access rights to specific contacts.

Act 2005 is available now from Web retailers and channel resellers, and will roll out in retail stores like Office Depot in September.

One veteran Act user, entrepreneur Jim Jobin, said he welcomes the new features and greater scalability of Act 2005, which he started using two weeks ago. Jobin owns, a Henderson, Nevada, business that does $3 million in annual revenue selling unusual pens and accessories. He has been an Act devotee since 1989.

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