Entrepreneur's Complete Guide to Software

Magazine Contributor
15+ min read

This story appears in the November 1997 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Entrepreneurs are ahead of the pack by nature-early adopters and innovators-but no entrepreneur would bet the farm on something just because it's new, any more than he or she would go along just to be part of the crowd. That's why, in Entrepreneur's annual evaluation of software, we profile both the bestselling software and the lesser-known but hot titles and new gizmos that have their own claims to fame. Sometimes the "off" brand will do the job and save you tons of money; other times the bestseller is best in every sense of the word. In each of 13 categories, we review several products. The first product in each section is the current bestseller according to SofTrends, the PC software tracking service of The NPD Group Inc., a market research firm in Port Washington, New York. We also profile exceptional products worth a mention in the "What's Hot" sections. All the products reviewed here deserve your consideration, especially since you can down-load free trial versions of many of them from the publishers' Web sites before doling out any cash. Download directly from the publisher whenever possible, and always isolate new software and check it for viruses. The Web addresses in each listing can also lead to special offers, the most current product information, network pricing charts, and detailed product specifications and requirements. So fire up your Web browser!

Contact Management

If your business depends on knowing what your customers like, what they've bought and what they're likely to want, you probably need a contact management program.

HAct! 3.0, $199.95, 10-pak $1,800, upgrade $89.95 (Windows 95/NT), $169.95 (Act! 2.8 for Macintosh), Symantec Corp., (800) 441-7234, http://www.symantec.com

Bestselling Act! 3.0 is a great way to organize. This powerful database feels like it's about people and goals instead of data fields and records, though you can easily customize the fields you enter information into. You can generate reports about your clients or design custom reports. Act! puts your Caller ID feature to work by pulling up a client's record before you answer the phone. You can synchronize your contact files with other databases or other users on your network. Simple but thoughtful features like group meeting scheduling and multiday project monitoring may even free you from your project management software.

Act! 3.0 employs Office 97-type features such as auto-filing entries it's seen before, launching Web pages and sending e-mail through Microsoft Exchange. Other helpful tools include a timer, calendars and a to-do scheduler. Uncompleted tasks are automatically rolled over to the next day's list. You can customize toolbars so the tools you use most are at the tip of your mouse pointer. Tool tips remind you what the icons do as you pause the cursor over them. Act! 3.0 opens DDF, CCD, TXT, CSV, DTF, WPA, DOC, WPD, REP, LBL, ENV, RPT, and TPL files. Act! 3.0 also imports Act! 3.0 DBF, dBASE III-V, Q&A 4.0-5.0 data, and delimited text. Taking up only 23MB of hard drive space (5MB for the Macintosh version), Act! is a great way to contact your world.

Other Products

GoldMine 2.5, $295 (Windows 3.1/NT 3.51), GoldMine 3.2, $295 (Windows 95/NT 4.0), GoldMine Software Corp., (800) 654-3526, http://www.goldminesw.com

Sharkware 3.0 Pro, $179.95, upgrade $79.95 (Windows 3.1/95/NT), CogniTech Corp., (800) 947-5075, http://www.sharkware.com

TeleMagic Professional, $99.95 (Windows 3.1/95), TeleMagic Inc., (800) 835-6244, http://www.telemagic.com

What's Hot

  • Watch for Janna Contact 98 Professional Edition ($319), which wasn't out at press time but should be by now. Janna 4.0 will have the Microsoft Internet Explorer Web browser integrated into the contact manager and will let you store an unlimited number of Web links with any contact, activate the URLs from within Janna, and share specific links with a workgroup. Call (800) 268-6107, or visit http://www.janna.com
  • Janna Contact Personal for Windows 95/NT is a sizzling hot deal at $79, since it has powerful features such as integration with Caller ID to bring up a contact's record before you even answer the phone.
  • Maximizer 97 is trying to steal Act!'s first place ranking with a $149 price tag and aggressive marketing tactics such as advertising a free pager (you must prepay 12 months of nonrefundable air time for $99 to get it). Maximizer 97 imports comma-delimited, tab-delimited, dBASE III, III+, and IV data. Contact Maximizer Technologies Inc. at (800) 804-6299 or http://www.maximizer.com
  • Sidekick 97 is a treat for long-time Sidekick fans and newcomers alike. The $49 program for Windows 3.1/95/NT features group scheduling over the Internet via popular Web browsers such as Netscape Navigator and e-mail products such as Eudora, and support for Caller ID and Internet paging. Sidekick 98, due in stores by press time, promises to have an even friendlier interface than earlier versions, integrated Web publishing, updated TrueSync for Palm-Pilot, import support for the new vCard/vCal-endar formats and more. Call Star-fish Software Inc. at (888) 782-7347, or visit http://www.starfishsoftware.com
  • A few new Acts! from Symantec Corp. are worth checking out. Act! 1.0 for Windows CE, $99.95, works with a handheld PC running Windows CE 1.0 and hooks up to a Windows 95 system running Act! 3.0 via cable. Act! PalmPilot Link for U.S. Robotics Pilot 1000 or 5000 palmtop portable computers is free for downloading from http://www.symantec.com


Accounting software may not be the flashiest of the bunch, but just try managing your business without it.

HQuickBooks 5.0, $99 (Windows 3.1/95), $99 (Quick-Books 4.0 for Macintosh), Intuit Inc., (800) 446-8848, http://www.quicken.com

QuickBooks 5.0, produced by the same folks who make Quicken for personal users, is the bestselling bean-counter for business. The package will run on Windows 3.1 or Windows 95 and uses 32MB of your hard drive. The program customizes itself to your industry, and you can turn off features your business doesn't use.

Quickbooks deals with estimates, invoices, finance charges, refunds and credits, receivables, sales, deposits, purchases, credit cards, checking accounts, payroll management, forecasts, and more. The new layout designer makes it easy to customize forms. Quickbooks has built-in Internet access for online banking, and the Windows version includes an Intuit edition of Netscape Navigator. Choose customers or jobs from a drop-down list to create invoices, and fill out checks onscreen. Sum up your bottom line with reports and graphs. The program calculates earnings and deductions, and prints such forms as 940s, W-2s and more. The CD-ROM version includes onscreen business and legal libraries. This program offers sophisticated features at a price that won't bust your bottom line.

Other Products

Money 97, $34.95 (Windows 95/NT 4.0), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

Small Business Financial Manager 97, $99 (Windows 95/NT 3.51), requires Excel 97, Microsoft Corp.

M.Y.O.B. Accounting 7, $134.95 (Windows 3.1), $144.95 (Macintosh System 7), upgrade $49.95, Bestware Inc., (800) 322-6962, http://www.bestware.com

Quicken Basic 98, $39.95 (Windows 3.1 or 32-bit Windows 95), $34.95 (Macintosh version), Intuit Inc.

QuickPay 3.0, $39.95 (Windows 3.1/95), Intuit Inc.

TurboTax for Business (1996 version), $69.95 (Windows 3.1/95), Intuit Inc.

Visual AccountMate 3.1, $1,195 per module (Windows 95/NT), AccountMate Software Corp., (800) 877-8896, http://www.accountmate.com

What's Hot

  • Classy Peachtree Complete Accounting Plus Time & Billing ($249) for Windows 3.1 in Enhanced Mode/95/NT 3.51 seems to have everything any business could possibly need for accounting-and even handles things like back orders and partial shipments. It includes action-items monitoring, multiple billing rates and electronic tax filing. Free CrashCourse Accounting Fundamentals and special editions of Act! 3.0 and Smart Attorney 6.0 are included. Call Peachtree Software Inc. at (800) 228-0068, or visit http://www.peachtree.com
  • Intuit Inc.'s QuickBooks 5.0 Pro ($199) for Windows 3.1/95 has Quickbooks 5.0 features plus improved estimates, job costing, time-tracking and milestone invoicing features.
  • Quicken Deluxe 98 ($59.95) for Windows 3.1/95 is personal financial software in that it organizes bank accounts, reminds you to pay bills, helps you bank online, keeps a home inventory, tracks stock online, looks for tax deductions and helps plan debt reduction. But this program from Intuit Inc. also helps small businesses track payroll and manage accounts payable, accounts receivable and other projects. A Macintosh version is also available.
  • Intuit's Quicken Home & Business 98, expected to be released by press time, will integrate invoicing and other business accounting basics with personal and basic business financial management, such as tracking accounts receivable, calculating sales tax and generating tax reports.

Office Suites

One of the big ideas behind Windows was that all your programs would have similar interfaces and interact with each other. Those who like that idea will appreciate office suites-groups of programs from a single company that look more alike and interact better together than programs chosen at random. Because software companies live by upgrades, they are eager to get you hooked on as many products they own as possible-and that can mean suites are a sweet deal for your business. You can save money buying an entire suite-usually containing word processor, spreadsheet and presentation programs-over purchasing individual programs. In fact, you can often get in on an office suite for its upgrade price with a "competitive upgrade offer"--a special price offered to users of a competitor's products.

Microsoft Office 97 Professional Edition, $599, upgrade $309 (Windows 95/NT), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

The upgrade to Office Pro 95 is actually the bestseller, and you can qualify for the upgrade price if you own suites from any of several other vendors, as well as earlier versions of Microsoft Office or Works. Office Pro 97 uses 191MB of your hard drive and contains Word 97 (word processor), Excel 97 (spreadsheet), Power-Point 97 (presentation), Access 97 (database), Outlook 97 (information manager) and Bookshelf Basics (references). The Standard edition, priced at $100 less, leaves out Microsoft Access and Bookshelf Basics.

What's new in this version of Microsoft Office? In Word 97, there's animated text; an icon that takes you to your Web browser; and when you type an e-mail or Web address, the URL becomes a hot link. More of your typing gets AutoCorrected, and the new AutoComplete feature offers suggestions when you begin typing a date. The Excel 97 spreadsheet has Formula AutoCorrect, text rotation and the ability to embed ActiveX Controls into spreadsheets. Database manager Access 97 lets you filter by highlighted data or by form, and you get many more wizards. The presentation program, PowerPoint, has more designs for your slide shows. Various other Office applications let you create hyperlinks to other documents, to specific places in documents or to Web sites, and you can translate files to HTML to create Web pages.

There are other worthy new features, and you'll read about more of them under our word processors, spreadsheets and database managers categories, where applications from Microsoft swept the bestseller spots. If the last Office products you really loved were Excel 3.0 and Word 2.0a (or 6.0), this version of Office will drive you nuts until you tame its "helpful" features. But if you crave animated text, documents that second-guess you, and hypertext everywhere, you'll love Office 97. The most useful improvements are in Access 97, where much-needed wizards make the product immediately accessible to beginners.

Other Products

Microsoft Office 97 Standard Edition, $499, upgrade $209 (Windows95/NT), Microsoft Corp.

What's Hot

  • Red Hat Software Inc.'s Applix-ware 4.3 ($199 Office Suite, $495 Developer's Version) for Linux is the hottest office suite. Linux users can enjoy the same pre-packaged, one-stop-and-it-works-together shopping that Windows and Macintosh users have long taken for granted, making it easier for businesses to migrate to lean, multihardware-platform Linux. Graphical Applix-ware includes a word processor, spreadsheet, graphics (paint, drawing, animation), integrated e-mail, Web page au-thoring, Extension Language Facility, macros, a 780-page user's manual, and a complete version of Red Hat Linux Operating System 4.1. Applixware users can read and write files in Word, WordPerfect, Excel, Interleaf, Frame, TIF, CGM and dozens of other file formats. Call (888) 733-4281, or visit http://www.redhat.com
  • Microsoft Office 97 Small Business Edition ($499; upgrade $209) for Windows 95/NT has Word 97, Excel 97 and Outlook 97 but trades the Access 97 database and PowerPoint presentation programs for Publisher 97-the best desktop publishing program around for small businesses. Publisher isn't as complicated as professional publishing programs like PageMaker or Corel Ventura, but it lets you create great brochures, newsletters, business stationery and other documents important to a business. Microsoft's Office 97 Small Business Edition also includes Small Business Financial Manager and Automap Streets Plus. This is definitely the best suite for businesses that do their own publishing and don't need a database manager or presentation program.
  • Lotus SmartSuite 97 ($399) for Windows 95/NT includes spreadsheet Lotus 1-2-3, Lotus Word Pro, presentation program Lotus Freelance Graphics, personal information manager Lotus Organizer, database manager Lotus Approach, and Lotus ScreenCam, a program that lets you record what you see on your monitor, including all your Actions, and share it with others who don't have Screen-Cam. If you're not already accustomed to the look and feel of Microsoft Office, it may make sense to leverage SmartSuite's excellent competitive upgrade price of $149 to get this package with sophisticated features. The suite lets you save files to HTML and even save ranges of spreadsheet cells to Web page tables. Look for Lotus SmartSuite 97 for OS/2 Warp 4 by year-end. Call (800) 343-5414, or visit http://www.lotus.com
  • Corel WordPerfect Suite 8 Professional ($479; upgrade or competitive upgrade $249) for Windows 95/NT includes Corel WordPerfect 8, spreadsheet Corel Quattro Pro 8, Corel Presentations 8, Corel Barista (a Java tool), Corel Versions (document revision software), Envoy 7 Viewer (which puts virtually all file types in the same viewer format), Netscape Communicator 3.0 Web browser, Bitstream Font Manager, 1,000 fonts, 10,000 clip art images, and Corel WordPerfect Suite Software Development Kit. Contact Corel Corp. at (800) 772-6735 or http://www.corel.com

Integrated Software

Integrated software is like a mini-office suite under a single roof-more like a department store than a shopping mall.

HMS Works 4.0, $45 (Windows 95), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

Top seller Microsoft Works 4.0 takes up 16MB of hard-drive space and provides word processing, database, spreadsheet, address book and communications (modem) software under one icon. Task wizards help you do what you need to do by choosing an activity instead of a program.

Any business considering Works 4.0 should take a look at Micro-soft Home Essentials-which includes MS Works 4.0 and much more (see "What's Hot" below).

Other Products

ClarisWorks 4.0 Internet Edition, $99, upgrade $39 (Windows 95/NT); $99, upgrade $49 (Macintosh), Claris Corp., (800) 544-8554, http://www.claris.com

What's Hot

  • You can get Works 4.0 in Micro-soft Corp.'s Microsoft Home Essentials 97, plus full versions of Microsoft Word 97, Encarta 97 (encyclopedia), Greetings Workshop (desktop publishing), Arcade (games), fonts and clip art, all for $109. The three-CD set for Windows 95 has a master-install menu that makes it easy to install just what you want at any time.
  • ClarisWorks Office, scheduled to be released by press time, will contain ClarisWorks 5.0, with its latest word processing, spreadsheet, database, graphics, presentation, and Internet features.

Web Browsers

Even if you've been living in a cave, you've probably seen the letters "www" somewhere. It's time to see what all the fuss is about-and what it can mean for your business.

Netscape Communicator 4.01, $59 after a 90-day trial period (Windows 3.1/95/NT 3.51/4.0 and Mac-intosh), Netscape Communications Corp., (800) 638-7483, http://www.netscape.com

At press time, the bestseller Netscape Navigator 3.0 Personal Edition had been replaced by Netscape Communicator 4.01. In its standard edition, Communicator includes the Netscape Nav-igator 4.01 Web browser, Collabra discussion groups, Page Composer, real-time confer-encing, and Netcaster offline browser. Communicator takes up 9MB of your hard drive (6MB for the Macintosh version). The program integrates Web access, e-mail, FTP (for downloading files), and Usenet news. Version 4.01 auto-finishes URLs as you begin typing them by finding them in your recent site list. Customize your Navigator toolbar and even drag-and-drop sites to the new Personal Toolbar. Tell Communicator to weed out old bookmarks, and it will tell you which sites it can't connect with. Communicator supports multiuser setups, dynamic HTML, messaging, and VRML 2.0 (a virtual reality modeling language). Composer lets you create and publish your own Web pages. Conference supports audio/videocon-fer-encing, whiteboards, and chat. Netscape Communicator 4.01 editions are also available in Digital Unix 3.2/4.0, HP-UX 9.05/10.x, Linux 2.0.x and AIX 4.x, and will be available in IRIX 5.3/6.2/6.3, Solaris 2.4/2.5 and SunOS 4.1.3 soon-perhaps by the time you read this.

Other Products

Microsoft Internet Explorer 3.0, free (Windows 95/NT), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

What's Hot

  • Netscape Communications Corp.'s Netscape Communicator 4.01 Professional Edition ($79 after a free 90-day trial period) for Windows 3.1/95/NT 3.51/4.0 and Macintosh System 7.5, adds calendaring, auto-administration, the IBM Host-On-Demand interface, and Mission Control, which allows the system administrator to lock and change preferences company-wide.
  • Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0, free (Windows 3.1/95/NT) will probably be available as you read this. Many will look to the new features in Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 to see the latest shots fired in the browser war with Netscape.

Database Managers

What do you do with your information? How do you catalogue, organize and mine data about products, clients or patents? You start by breaking down the information into the smallest units and then setting up groups of fields that make up records. By keeping information in its smallest logical units, a good database management program can stand ready to provide answers to questions you haven't even thought of yet.

Microsoft Access 97, $339, upgrade $109 (Windows 95/NT 3.51 Service Pack 5 or later), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

The Microsoft Access 97 database manager deserves its honored position as the bestseller in this category. I found the old version too difficult to bother with but jumped into 97 and made it work for me right away, thanks to great new wizards and wonderfully simple and straightforward prompts, such as whether I wanted to add my data directly or through a form. A great selection of wizards and templates is ready to serve up databases you're likely to want, such as an address book, asset tracking, contact management, donations, event management, expenses, ledger, inventory control, service call management, time and billing, and several types of libraries and collections. The pre-set databases are extremely custom-izable. If you decide to start with a blank slate, you still get a set of easy-to-use tools for tables, query forms, reports, macros and modules. There's even a label wizard for spitting out reports to printed labels. Customizable toolbars make it even easier to have the data your way in Access 97. And the program takes up just 40MB of hard-drive space.

Other Products

Lotus Approach 97, $105, (Windows 95/NT), (800) 343-5414, http://www.lotus.com

Word Processing

Business owners may remember cutting and pasting words and phrases-with scissors and tape. Then you'd have to retype the whole document. The word processor has made it possible for millions to revise their work as often as they want without killing trees, and the average word-processing document, with tasteful fonts and type sizes, is a lot better looking than the average typed page ever was.

Microsoft Word 97, $339, upgrade $109 (Windows 95/NT), Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

The upgrade for Word 97 was our analyst's number-one bestseller. The program offers previews of styles before you apply them to your documents, greater control wrapping text around objects, more customizable toolbars and menus, and iconic drop-down menus. A Web toolbar lets users launch Web pages from bookmark-style lists or by typing the URL into a field, but the Web page actually appears in Netscape or the user's other configured browser. This new version also lets you make hypertext of any text and automatically formats URLs as hyperlinks-unless you get in and root out some of the unrequested auto-magic.

Word 97's fluffiest features include animated text formatting options, from a blinking background and marching ants to shimmering and sparkling text. There's also an option to get feedback from the program via animation. One of the most thoughtful features is the "Document Map" view, which opens a hyper listing of places in the document at the left of the screen so you can jump easily from place to place in your document. All these features take up only 46MB of hard-drive space. With careful selection of the useful features over the fluffier, program-slowing ones, Word 97 can be not only the bestseller but simply the best.

Other Products

Lotus Word Pro 97, $105 (Windows 95/NT), (800) 343-5414, http://www.lotus.com

Operating Systems

Between your computer's language and applications such as word processors and spreadsheets, there's an operating system, or OS. You're probably familiar with one or more of these: Windows 95, DOS, Macintosh System 7, OS/2, UNIX, Sun, and so on. Guess which one is selling best? Remember, there are deals between PC manufacturers and operating systems publishers, so might doesn't always make right.

Windows 95 upgrade, $109, Microsoft Corp., (800) 426-9400, http://www.microsoft.com

You knew the Windows 95 upgrade would be the bestseller-and not because it automatically comes loaded with so many PCs. Windows 95 brought Windows into the native 32-bit arena without taking as many resources as NT. Windows 95 also added more efficient navigation through a combination of the Start Menu for launching programs and the button bar for moving among open programs. Although Windows 95 is legendary for causing trouble during installation, it brought networking protocols and other empowering capabilities to the home and small-business desktop, and that buys those users time before having to choose between NT and UNIX derivatives for a business-class operating system. It also buys Microsoft time to make a successor that can compete with the two serious business platforms. The upgrade will need 45MB of hard-drive space.

Other Products

Mac OS 8, $99 (Macintosh), Apple Computer Inc., (800) 293-6617, http://www.apple.com

What's Hot

  • Red Hat Linux 4.2 is red hot. The Linux operating system-a derivative of UNIX-boasts sophisticated network and Internet administration tools, and performs true multiuser multitasking. Although Linux itself is free, it has too many components for most system administrators to bother collecting, and we highly recommend forking over the $49.95 for Red Hat's Linux 4.2 version. One reason Internet service providers (ISPs) are switching to Linux is that it runs on Intel, Sun, Alpha, and Power PCs. Red Hat's 4.2 version alone works on Intel, Alpha and SPARC. Linux is lean, too-the Intel version can run on a 386! The $49.95 version includes the Linux 2.0.30 operating system, libraries, Web and FTP servers, Sendmail SMTP server, Ethernet, PPP, SLIP, NFS, network firewalling, virtual hosting, C, C++, Objective C, Pascal, assembler, FORTRAN, BASIC, Java support, Perl, LISP, secure Red Baron 3.1 Web browser (supports forms, frames, SSL and SET), FTP, gopher and e-mail clients, X Windows, image and video viewers, paint programs, support for PCL and PostScript printers, arcade games, flight simulators, and much more. Red Hat Linux reads DOS, OS/2 and Windows NT file systems. You can even get beautiful graphical office suites for Linux-see Applixware Office Suite, which reads Word and Excel files, in our Suites category. If the idea of Linux is too techie for you, pass this on to your Information Systems department-it could be the smartest move you make for your business this year. If you don't do it, then don't complain about platforms that won't talk to each other and resource-hungry operating systems with bloated applications running your hardware costs up to the moon. Contact Red Hat Software Inc. at (888) 733-4281 or http://www.redhat.com
  • Sales of what Apple Computer calls the most significant Macintosh upgrade since 1984 are booming-more than 1.2 million copies were sold between July 26 and August 8 this year alone. Macintosh OS 8 allows for faster operations and multitasking, and provides spring-loaded folders that open when a file is dragged on top of them, an Internet Set Up Assistant, and popular Internet software. Personal Web Sharing turns any Mac-intosh into a Web server. QuickTime 2.5, QuickTime VR 2.0, QuickDraw 3D 1.5, and QuickDraw GX multimedia tools are also included. As a result of the recent deal with Microsoft, Internet Explorer, as well as Netscape Navigator, will be bundled with the new Macintoshes. Macintosh OS 8 works on all 68040- and Power-PC processor-based Macintosh OS-compatible systems. It does not support 68030-based systems, even those with PowerPC upgrade cards. Mac-intosh OS 8 will run most existing applications. Macintosh OS 7.6 or 7.6.1 owners are eligible for a $30 rebate.
  • Windows 98 should ship in the first quarter of 1998. (See "Business Software," October, for a complete review of the test version.)
  • OS/2 Warp 4 ($229; upgrade $139) runs OS/2, DOS and most Windows 3.x applications, and does so on older machines (386 and 486) if they have enough memory. OS/2 Warp 4 continues the legacy of robust networking, too-it will transparently reconnect to a network if someone takes the system down and brings it back up. You also get speech recognition, Internet features and Java support. If you don't need to run Windows 95 applications, OS/2 Warp 4 from IBM Corp. can help you get a lot out of your hardware. Call (800) 426-2255, or visit http://www.ibm.com
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