capsule review

FastTrack Schedule 8.0

At a Glance
  • AEC Software FastTrack Schedule 8.0

    Macworld Rating

FastTrack Schedule 8 is a hard-to-find fusion of simplicity and power. Its graphical timelines are perfect for beginning project managers. And its new features, which can automate more-complex scheduling tasks and enable data exchange with Microsoft Project, make it an ideal choice for project-management pros.

Over the years, a handful of intrepid companies, in particular AEC Software, have advanced the state of project management for the Mac. Unlike complex, traditional scheduling packages, such as Artemis International's Viewpoint, AEC's FastTrack Schedule lets you build sophisticated plans depicted with presentation-quality timelines, and it requires little project-management schooling. AEC's steadfastness has paid off--FastTrack currently has no serious competitors, given that Microsoft hasn't updated the Mac version of Project 4.0 in a dog's age.

FastTrack Schedule 7.0 (mmmm; Reviews, April 2001) offered features for building high-level project plans quickly and easily in OS 9. The latest release, FastTrack Schedule 8, takes project management a step further: tightly integrated with OS X (it still runs in OS 9 as well), version 8 capitalizes on OS X's performance capabilities. It also sports an Aquafied interface that's easier to use and navigate, and it offers precision and productivity enhancements, making it an appealing choice for beginning and professional project managers alike.

Fast Path to Planning

FastTrack Schedule 8's intuitive interface lets you get up and running right away. Much like a spreadsheet, it offers a row for each project task and columns for details, such as completion dates and costs. You list each task by name in the Activity column, and the program's built-in Outliner function allows you to display those tasks hierarchically. This way, you can quickly see which jobs depend on one another.

FastTrack Schedule shines as you get down to day-to-day work. A graphical timeline's horizontal bars represent how long tasks last. If your project changes midstream, reordering the sequence of events is a painless process--just drag and drop the bars in the desired order within the timeline.

While there was nothing especially difficult about creating and modifying a schedule in past versions, FastTrack Schedule 8 further simplifies the process. First, the software's auto-outlining function now maintains activities at their current levels in the hierarchy, rather than forcing you to indent each new task manually as you enter it. Second, we appreciated the new Continual Summary Bar Display. Put plainly, this colored horizontal bar illustrates the duration of all project phases, so you can quickly see where major parts of a project fall along the bar and how they relate to other parts of the plan.

With 43 possible columns and many formatting options for graphs, casual project planners may have trouble figuring out where to begin. While it's up to you to determine your project's scope--including deadlines, task assignments, and so forth--FastTrack Schedule 8's templates help you put all these elements together without overwhelming you. For instance, to begin, we simply launched the program's New File Assistant and selected the Construction template as an instant framework. You might also want to try moving things along with some of version 8's new Example files. Organized by industry (publishing and law, for example) these files offer a starter collection of tasks you can use when you're not sure which steps are essential for a successful project.

Kicking Projects Up a Notch

Full-time project managers have long relied on WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) codes as a means of controlling a project's phases, down to the minutest detail. WBS lets you identify project tasks with individualized numeric or alphanumeric labels, and we used version 8's new and easy-to-use dialog box to assign a custom WBS sequence to each task. When we then added tasks or moved existing ones within the hierarchy, WBS codes updated automatically, making it extremely easy to divide and reorganize large projects into manageable pieces.

Sweating the Small Stuff

Throughout FastTrack Schedule 8, we noticed many smaller improvements that, combined, made a big difference. For example, using FastSteps, the built-in point-and-click scripting capability, we automated repetitive tasks, such as filtering activities and printing reports. You can create more-advanced macros--to export information from a database and import it into FastTrack Schedule 8, say--via AppleScript. And for the large number of businesses using Microsoft Project 2000 for Windows, FastTrack's Project 2000 Exchange wizard makes short work of converting a Microsoft Project file into a FastTrack Schedule file.

Faithful FastTrack users will appreciate the latest update's speed in OS X. For example, when we recalculated a schedule's duration after inserting new tasks into FastTrack Schedule 8 running in OS X 10.1, and then did the same with FastTrack Schedule 7 running in OS 9, version 8 was about 30 percent faster, and overall response felt much snappier. The program also supports Palm Desktop 4.0 for Mac OS X; FastTrack Schedule 8 for Palm OS let us effortlessly synchronize files between the PDA version of FastTrack and the desktop application.

The only glaring omission is that multiple users can't collaborate on projects via the Web. Still, version 8 is sold in multiuser configurations, with the Mac and Windows versions able to share files.

Macworld's Buying Advice

FastTrack Schedule 8 is a hard-to-find fusion of simplicity and power. Its graphical timelines are perfect for beginning project managers. And its new features, which can automate more-complex scheduling tasks and enable data exchange with Microsoft Project, make it an ideal choice for project-management pros.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    Pros

    • Intuitive navigation and premade templates for quick learning and improved productivity
    • Versatile Work Breakdown Structure organizes complex projects

    Cons

    • No Web-collaboration ability
1 2 Page 1
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.