Using a software application to help manage your projects shouldn't be more work than the project itself. Unfortunately, in many cases, it is. And, at first glance, FastTrack Schedule Version 7.0 from AEC Software looks as if it could require more effort than you bargained for. However, this project-management tool offers many features that can make monitoring projects less of a headache.
Version 7.0, the latest upgrade to the software, is available for $299 (street). It adds more customization options and new ways to view your project's timeline. It also features a compatible version for your Palm handheld computer, available for $99 (street). The Palm version offers a limited number of the features available in the desktop version, but it does allow you to create and edit schedules.
The desktop version is indeed far more robust. The interface is busy-it can be overwhelming at first-but once you spend some time navigating through the application and its many features, you learn just what FastTrack can do. For instance, you can track progress on a project by entering different tasks and assigning timelines. You can also track the hours and the amount of money spent on each project. New in Version 7.0: a calendar view that allows you to see your project's timeline on a traditional calendar rather than just on a Gantt chart. The tracking function also features a critical path highlighter, which highlights the trail of tasks with the least flexibility for change.
FastTrack 7.0 also adds resource tracking, which allows you to track all the people, equipment and resources necessary for projects. With the Resource Work Calendar, users can set individual work calendars for each person or each piece of equipment involved in a project. Each individual or piece of equipment can be assigned to a specific task (issues such as vacation time or equipment maintenance can be accounted for), and the information can be displayed in a bar chart. Also among the new features in Version 7.0 are the QuickLook Balloons, the QuickRange Palette, a Web help section and a Microsoft Project 2000 Exchange Wizard. A fully functional version is available as a free download, but users will be unable to save files. Registered users of Version 6.0 can upgrade for $129.
Liane Gouthro, a former technology reporter at PCWorld.com, freelances from her home in Brookline, Massachusetts.