From the November 1996 issue of Entrepreneur

To stay ahead in business, you have to stay on top of the tools available to you. To help, Entrepreneur annually evaluates the bestselling software programs for small business.

The roundup includes 12 types of software programs, all designed with one goal in mind: making your life easier. We take a look at the bestsellers in each category; we also list worthy challengers to the throne and encourage you to take a look at them before making a final decision. And, for a look at the trends and products making waves, check out the "What's Hot" list in each category. (Bestseller information provided by software research company PC Data Inc. in Reston, Virginia.)

Contact Management

Act! 2.0, $199.95 (DOS, Windows 3.1), $169.95 (Macintosh), Symantec Corp., (800) 441-7234, http://www.symantec.com

Smart entrepreneurs know contacts are vital to a small company. Without strong contacts within your industry, you won't likely survive. Symantec's Act! 2.0 is the bestseller in the contact management category. With this robust program, users can create unlimited databases with up to 70 customizable fields; schedule unlimited calls, meetings and to-do's; view a calendar by day, week or month; print calendars on 20 supported organizer formats; generate reports on customers and activities; and much more. Act! also supports some e-mail programs, including cc:Mail, Microsoft Mail and CompuServe's program, and can run on some handheld computers, including Hewlett Packard and Psion palmtops.

If you already use some sort of phone or address book program, Act! can import many file formats. I imported data from Starfish Software's Sidekick, a popular personal information manager (PIM). Within moments, I was working in my database, pointing and clicking to schedule meetings and calls.

Act! takes up only 8MB of disk space and is easy to use. You almost never need to take your hand off your mouse--just click on the word "call," pick a date on the pop-up calendar, select a time, and you're done. Want to know who you have scheduled to call today? Just click on the activities icon or look at the calendar. Need to write a letter? Simply click on the word processing icon, and a form comes up, complete with the contact's name and address, preferred salutation and your standard sign-off.

The somewhat cryptic tool bar images can be difficult to decipher, but the new Windows 95 version should eliminate that complaint.

This version of Act! is also available in a network version, which costs $799 and supports Novell Netware, LANtastic and Windows for Work groups.

Other Products

Claris Organizer 2.0, $69 (Macintosh/Power Mac), Claris Corp., (800) 544-8554, http://www.claris.com

Ecco Pro 3.0, $139 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT), NetManage, (408) 973-7171, http://www.netmanage.com

Executive Desk, $49.95 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT), Expert's Choice Inc., (800) 242-4775

GoldMine for Windows 95, $295 (single user), GoldMine Software Corp., (800) 654-3526, http://www.goldminesw.com

Janna Contact Professional, $149 (Windows 95/NT), Janna Systems Inc., (800) 268-6107, http://www.janna.com

Organizer 97, $79 (Windows 95/NT), $49 (upgrade), Lotus Development Corp., (800) 343-5414, ,http://www.lotus.com

Sidekick 95, $49.95 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT), Starfish Software Inc., (408) 461-5800, http://www.starfishsoftware.com

What's Hot

  • Act! 3.0 for Windows 95/NT wasn't available at press time but should be in stores now. It promises to bring even more functionality to this popular contact manager. New features include the ability to find contacts based on Caller-ID, group calendaring, support for Internet e-mail, integration with a user's preferred word processor, and complete customization of fields and layouts.
  • FileABC has teamed up with Franklin Quest to integrate its Imaging and Document Management software with Franklin Quest's Ascend time manager. The new program, which didn't have a name yet at press time, will help users more effectively manage tasks, appointments, notes, goals, correspondence and more by linking supporting documents and information with these activities. This means users can keep their personal appointment calendar, record of events, contact and phone log, as well as a virtual filing cabinet's worth of information, all in one place. Call (808) 523-7857.
  • Janna Contact Personal is just $49.95 but offers features found in more expensive programs, including the ability to store all sorts of files, such as letters, faxes and even video clips, with the appropriate contact.
  • Lotus Organizer is one of the most popular PIMs on the market. Lotus claims more than 9 million customers worldwide use it. The latest version, Organizer 97, is a 32-bit Windows 95/NT program with numerous enhancements, such as an improved autodialer and the ability to launch Web sites from within Organizer.
  • The newest version of Claris Organizer for the Macintosh is Internet-savvy, with e-mail and Web links providing instant access to the World Wide Web.

Accounting and BookKeeping

QuickBooks Pro 4.0, $189 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT, Macintosh), Intuit Inc., (800) 816-8025, http://www.intuit.com

Your company's bottom line is something you need to stay on top of. You could send your bookkeeping to a professional, or you could do it yourself with Intuit's QuickBooks. QuickBooks is a longtime bestseller in this category, with a more than 60 percent market share. This year, an enhanced version of QuickBooks, called QuickBooks Pro, is the number-one seller.

QuickBooks Pro 4.0 has the same functionality as the standard QuickBooks 4.0 but is enhanced with project management functions, such as estimating, time-tracking and job-costing. This product truly makes accounting easy. The EasyStep Interview walks users through the start-up process, including customer, vendor, employee and item setup. But to get started, you don't even have to go through the setup process. You can just open a blank invoice, fill in a customer name and address--QuickBooks will automatically add the contact to your database--and go.

This version even includes a minicontact manager for tracking all communications with your customers. You can take notes, schedule callbacks and manage to-do's. Daily business chores can be easily accomplished in QuickBooks--you can output customized invoices, run reports to see what's going on in your business, track accounts receivable and easily work on accounts payable. When it's time to pay your employees, QuickBooks Payroll automatically calculates earnings and deductions and even prints W-2s, W-3s and 1099s.

QuickBooks Pro needs about 30MB of hard-drive space. The CD-ROM versions of QuickBooks include a ZIP Code Directory and Business and Legal Libraries, and need a color monitor.

Other Products

Quicken 5.0, $39.95 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT), Intuit Inc.

DacEasy Accounting & Payroll 95, $149.95 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT), DacEasy Inc., (800) 322-3279

Managing Your Money, $19.95 (DOS, Windows 3.1, Macintosh), Meca Software LLC, (800) 288-6322, http://www.mymnet.com

Microsoft Money 95, $34.95 (Windows 95/NT), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

M.Y.O.B. Accounting 6.0, $79.95 (Windows 3.1), $89.95 (Macintosh), BestWare, (800) 322-6962

One-Write Plus 5.0, $89.95 (Windows 3.1), $69.96 (DOS), Peachtree Software Inc., (800) 225-9550, http://www.peachtree.com

Peachtree First Accounting 2.0, $49.95 (Windows 3.1); Peachtree Accounting 3.5, $129 (Windows 3.1); Peachtree Complete for Windows, $199; Peachtree Accounting for Macintosh 2.5, $99; Peachtree Software Inc., (800) 247-3224

Simply Accounting 4.0, $129 (Windows 3.1), ACCPAC International, (800) 773-5445, http://www.cia.com

Visual AccountMate, $1,195 (Windows 95/NT), AccountMate Software, (800) 877-8896, http://www.accountmate.com

What's Hot

  • PC Payroll for Windows ($195, plus $95 annually) is an automated payroll system that can be customized for special tax situations, including multistate employees. The professional version lets users integrate with their favorite accounting program, such as QuickBooks, DacEasy and more. Contact Peninsula Software of Virginia Inc. at (757) 873-2976.
  • Look for a new version of DacEasy Accounting & Payroll 95. This version is designed to make the setup process easier and will include online banking. It will still feature a customizable interface and be networkable; it will also be integrated with DacEasy's sister programs TeleMagic, a contact manager, and Timeslips, a time and billing program.
  • Microsoft Money 97 should be available now and includes online banking--currently, nearly 60 banks are signed on. A partnership with Visa enables Money users to download their Visa accounts into the program. Quicken users will be able to easily convert data to this new version.
  • The latest version of State of the Art's MAS 90 accounting program is designed to work under Windows. It promises considerable performance improvements over its DOS-based predecessors while offering complete compatibility with DOS modules. MAS 90 is the accounting software of choice for many medium-sized companies. Call (800) 854-3415, or visit http://www.stateoftheart.com.

Office Suites

Microsoft Office Professional 95, $599 (Windows 95/NT), $349 (competitive upgrade), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

The concept of office suites--software packages that integrate several applications--has spelled sweet success for a few key software companies, most notably Microsoft. Microsoft Office Professional is by far the most comprehensive suite available--Microsoft packs much of its product line into it. Indeed, your hard drive might sway under its weight, as a full install of the entire program can take up 124MB of hard-drive space. For those with less space to lose, a compact (or partial) install requires just 42MB.

What do you get for that? Bestselling programs including Word 95, a word processor; Excel 95, a spreadsheet; PowerPoint 95, a presentation program; Access 95, a database; Schedule+ 95, a scheduling program; Word Internet Assistant, a rudimentary HTML editor; Internet Explorer, a Web browser . . . the list goes on and on. Suffice it to say, Office Professional 95 provides all the applications a business needs--and then some.

If you opt for Microsoft Office, you'll never again open a program and wonder how the heck it works. That's because each Office program has a similar look and feel, with the pull-down menus and icons activating the same functions.

Another great bonus is the total integration offered by Office. For example, a spreadsheet created in Excel can be embedded into a Word document, and if the data on the spreadsheet changes, that change will automatically occur in the Word document. Additionally, Answer Wizard quickly and easily tells you how to use the applications together.

Not surprisingly, Microsoft already has plans for Office 97, a suite that incorporates Web technology and includes Microsoft Outlook, a souped-up contact manager.

Other Products

Corel Office Professional, $695 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT) and Corel WordPerfect Suite 7, $395 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT, CD-ROM version), Corel Corp., (800) 772-6735, http://www.corel.com

What's Hot

  • SmartSuite 97 Edition for Windows 95/NT should be in stores by the time you read this. It will include new versions of 1-2-3, Organizer, Word Pro, Freelance Graphics and Approach (a database). Lotus says SmartSuite 97 will feature extensive Internet capabilities, including the ability to publish 1-2-3 spreadsheets directly to the Internet and the Word Pro Web Builder with automatic conversion to HTML format. Call (800) 343-5414, or visit http://www.lotus.com

Integrated Software

ClarisWorks 4.0, $129 (Macintosh), Claris Corp., (800) 544-8554, www.claris.com

Unlike office suites, integrated programs are designed primarily for home office use. The components are not typically full-fledged programs but are usually competent enough to perform common functions.

ClarisWorks 4.0 for the Macintosh is the bestseller in this category--perhaps because office suites on the Windows platform have become so affordable, it makes less sense to purchase pared-down integrated packages for Windows. Worth noting here, however, is that ClarisWorks 4.0 for Windows 95, at $49, is significantly less expensive than the Macintosh version.

ClarisWorks is the best low-cost Macintosh solution if you're looking for an all-in-one software package. This program boasts a full-featured word processor, spreadsheet database, and graphics and presentation capabilities in one complete package.

This version of ClarisWorks includes Assistants, Shortcuts and Stationaries to make it easy to create documents. It also includes a new HTML translator for creating documents to be posted to the World Wide Web.

ClarisWorks 4.0 offers 100 percent cross-platform compatibility between the Macintosh and Windows 95 versions. Amazingly, all this functionality requires just 14MB of hard-drive space and can run on 4MB RAM.

Other Products

Microsoft Works, $54.95 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT, Macintosh), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

Web Browsers

Netscape Navigator 3.0, $49 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT, Macintosh), Netscape Communications Corp., (415) 254-1900, http://home.netscape.com

Explorer 3.0, free (Windows 95/NT), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400,

http://www.microsoft.com

Though Netscape is without a doubt the number-one seller of Web-browsing software, Microsoft is quickly gaining market share with its free distribution of Explorer and its extensive new agreements with mainstream online providers such as America Online, CompuServe, AT&T, MCI and NetCom.

Netscape has poured major enhancements into the newest version of Navigator, including integrated support for sound and multimedia. This means Web designers will be able to embed things such as RealAudio, Shockwave and QuickTime into their Web sites, and users will be able to seamlessly play them without adding any plug-in software.

Another addition is what Netscape calls CoolTalk, which allows you to set up an Internet phone connection with conversation, text chat and real-time file sharing. Live3D promises to let users travel through 3-D worlds via the Net. This version will also include enhanced Java support.

A trial version of Navigator 3.0 is available free simply by downloading it from http://home.netscape.com.

Not to be outdone, Microsoft has been feverishly working to release Explorer 4.0. It looks as if many of the new Navigator features will also be incorporated into Explorer 4.0. Explorer will still benefit from increased Windows 95 compatibility--with easy shortcuts to bookmarks--and it will still be free.

Other Products

Mosaic in a Box for Windows 95, $9.95, CompuServe SPRY/Internet Division, (206) 957-8000, http://www.spry.com

Emissary Desktop 2.0, $99 (Windows 3.1), Attachmate, (800) 426-6283, http://www.attachmate.com

What's Hot

  • Check out Globalink's Web Translator. This browser add-on lets you translate Web pages from Spanish, French and German into English or vice versa. Call (800) 755-2799.
  • FreeLoader delivers Web sites to your hard drive at specified times--even if you're not there. You can also have FreeLoader check out your favorite Web sites and tell you if they've been updated. Download this program for free at http://www.freeloader.com
  • Mustang Software, makers of Wildcat! Interactive Net Server, recently announced an agreement with Automated Transactions Services that will allow for real-time online processing of credit cards and electronic checks for purchases made at Wildcat! sites. Call (800) 999-9619, or visit http://www.mustang.com

Databases

Microsoft Access 95, $339 (Windows 95/NT), $129 (competitive upgrade), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

Microsoft Access is a relational database that can help you track things like sales figures, invoices and inventory. You can also use it to keep track of personal information, such as favorite books and quotations, an inventory of your possessions and the like.

Because databases tend to be intimidating for the uninitiated, Microsoft includes Database Wizards that automatically build tables, queries, forms and reports--tasks that seem daunting to first-time users. Access 95 also includes a Wizard that works with Word 95 to make mail merges easy.

This 32-bit program supports advanced Windows 95 functions such as long file names, tabbed dialogs and desktop shortcuts. As with all Office 95 applications, Access 95 supports object linking and embedding (OLE), enabling virtually seamless cross-application integration. Additionally, Access' AutoCorrect automatically corrects the spelling of common words, and the Performance Analyzer examines a database and recommends changes to improve performance.

Of course, all this power needs plenty of hardware behind it. Microsoft recommends 12MB of memory for Windows 95 and 16MB for Windows NT. A complete installation uses 42MB of hard-drive space, while a minimum install needs 14MB.

Expect Access 97 to include an extensive amount of Internet and Intranet tools for publishing databases on the Internet.

Other Products

AskSam 3.0, $149.95 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT; standard version), $395 (professional version), AskSam Systems, (800) 800-1997, http://www.asksam.com

Filemaker Pro 3.0, $199 (Windows 3.1, Windows 95/NT, Macintosh), Claris Corp., (800) 544-8554, http://www.claris.com

Lotus Approach 96, $129 (Windows 95/NT; CD-ROM version), $109 (disk version), Lotus Development Corp., (800) 343-5414, http://www.lotus.com

What's Hot

  • AskSam users may want to check out AskSam's Web Publisher. Give your AskSam database to AskSam Systems, and they'll put it up on their server for as little as $30 per month. That means anyone with access to the Internet will be able to search or page through and execute any links in your AskSam database. Those of you with your own Windows 95 or NT server can purchase Web Publisher ($1,495) and post as much AskSam data as you want.