The Search for PIMs

Act for Macintosh hasn't been updated since 1998. And it's been two years since Interact Commerce announced it would discontinue development on the Mac version of the popular contact-management software it bought from Symantec. But some Mac users have been reluctant to drop an application praised for its customizable fields and strong contact-management features. Still, those Mac users may not have a choice.

While Interact still maintains an Act for Mac knowledge-base Web site, the lack of active support for the software has many companies insisting that its Mac-using employees switch to a more current application. That's causing quite a stir in the Macworld.com Office/Business Software forum, where users are on the lookout for a Personal Information Manager (PIM) that can measure up to their beloved Act.

Abandoned Act users looking to make a fresh start are in luck. From a new version of Power On Software's Now Up-to-Date & Contact to organizational software from Chronos to a PIM integrated into Microsoft Office, the Mac market offers plenty of choices for contact-management software. The trick for Act users is to find an application that retains some, if not most, of the features of the late, lamented software.

Perhaps the best-known option for PIM software is Now Up-to-Date & Contact. Version 4 of the $120 PIM began shipping last month. Version 4.1 -- a free update that Carbonizes Now Up-to-Date -- will follow later this summer.

Now Up-to-Date has many features -- an address book, calendar, and contact manager -- that should appeal to Act users. But the ability to add custom fields in particular should please Act devotees. That was one of the contact manager's strongest selling points.

But Act users will also be happy to see contact histories for phone calls, correspondence, completed items, notes, and open to-dos. Now Up-to-Date also features quick look-ups, keyword searches, and built-in tools for mail merges, label printing, envelopes, faxes, and all popular calendar formats. It syncs with Palm OS handheld devices and imports data from Act.

But Now Up-to-Date & Contact isn't the only headliner now that Act's left the stage. Chronos offers both the Personal Organizer ($50) and Group Organizer -- the latter being a client/server version of its PIM application with prices starting at $100. With Group Organizer, users can share common data over a network.

The Organizer products from Chronos have many of the features that Act users have come to rely on, incorporating a calendar, address book, notes, a word processor, memo pad, and journal. Users can set up six standard fields and 16 custom fields in the address book and attach an unlimited amount of notes to each contact. The calendar offers Day, Multiday, Week, Month, Year, and List views. Like Now Up-to-Date, the Chronos applications sync with Palm OS handhelds and import Act data.

The new kid on the block, relatively speaking, is Microsoft Entourage. This PIM is integrated into the Microsoft Office 2001 product suite. But users who don't want to shell out $499 for the complete Office suite will have a chance to buy a slimmed-down version. Microsoft Word + Entourage 2001 Special Edition will hit store shelves in July for a limited time. The $149 application bundles Microsoft's word processor with the Entourage PIM, much in the same way that Act incorporated a word processing application with its contact-management capabilities.

Like both of the previously mentioned PIMs, Entourage sports an address book, calendar, task manager, reminders, and notes. However, Entourage is as much an e-mail program as it is a PIM. In addition to the PIM's information manager duties, users can set Entourage as their default e-mail client. Like Personal and Group Organizer and Now Up-to-Date, Entourage will sync with Palm OS handhelds; however, it is not set up to import your Act database (although data exported to a comma-delimited text file can be imported into Entourage).

There are dozens of less-prominent PIMs and contact managers from smaller developers and shareware makers. A search at VersionTracker.com will list a handful of viable applications that could step in for Act. But Now Up-to-Date, Personal and Group Organizer, and Entourage give Act users a starting point to decide which combination of features and price best fits their needs.

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