Good programs for sharing contacts and calendar info in a small company?
July 12, 2007 11:43 PM   Subscribe

What are good programs for sharing contact and calendar information in a small office? The most attractive piece of software I've found so far is "ACT!"

The office looking for this program (a small architecture firm) has under 10 users all running Windows 2000/XP. They want something easy and that can be run offline, exclusively offline is preferable.

They used to run "Now Up-to-Date" and totally hate it. They want to replace this program with something better and more user-friendly.

The program should be very easy to use, easy to install/maintain, well-supported, doesn't require a dedicated server, and is reasonably priced.

Is ACT! really the best thing out there?

Also, can you give me some keywords for what this kind of software is called?
posted by redteam to Computers & Internet (11 answers total)
Our (very large) office does calendar sharing through Outlook (the person whose calendar it is sets the level of permission - my secretary can see all the details and edit it; other people can only see whether I've marked my time as "busy"). Contacts can also be shared this way, but we share ours enterprise-wide with something called "Interaction" -- I believe there is both a web based version and a stand alone version. I have no idea if either solution will work "exclusively offline" though.
posted by dpx.mfx at 5:19 AM on July 13, 2007

The office I work at uses Outlook, also.

As far as free, easy to install/maintain, and not requiring a dedicated server, have you thought about Google Calendar? I can't speak from personal experience, but it looks like GC allows you to "decide who can see your calendar and which details they can view"... this sounds like what you're looking for, kind of. *shrugs* I have friends who swear by it.
posted by Zephyrial at 6:28 AM on July 13, 2007

Follow-up: Sorry, just saw you wanted something offline or exclusively offline. I believe you could use Google Gears to run Google Calendar offline, but that would kind of defeat the purpose, since AFAIK you then wouldn't be able to view other people's calendars.

Sorry I didn't read more carefully!!
posted by Zephyrial at 6:29 AM on July 13, 2007

I am the default guy in charge of IT at a 7 person company. We installed ACT! Premium 2006 in a Windows XP and Windows Small Business Server environment for generally the same reason.

The type of software is called CRM and it allows you to share and query contacts. You can create remote databases that synch as well. There is a bunch of sales funnel things and helps you track your interaction with customers.

Sounds great right? Well, the trick with CRM is actually using it. ACT! was terrible to install, buggy, difficult to integrate with Outlook 2002 (ACT! email client strips all the HTML formating out of all emails). Overall, we have found that we don't use 80% of the functionality. It is a pain to load and the user experience isn't that great. People resisted using it and would have prefered we never adopted it. In short, it seems like overkill to me to share contacts and calendars. I give it a 6/10 but the other offline packages are worse I've heard from coworkers who have used them.

So I'm not sure there is a better solution besides Outlook which you can share calendars even without an Excange server. I don't know how to share contacts without Exchange.
posted by FastGorilla at 8:00 AM on July 13, 2007

CRM = customer relationship management
posted by FastGorilla at 8:02 AM on July 13, 2007

I like the stuff in SmartSuite, but I'm weird.
posted by wierdo at 9:15 AM on July 13, 2007

It's also called "groupware". Act is not bad software - several of our clients swear by it. It can act as a CRM system - tracking and managing customer data (which is its core strength) or it can be used to share calendars and contact data internally.
If more than 5 people are using the same database, you'll need the workgroup version. If more than 5 people are using it, it's going to be a complete dog, performance-wise. The Act database model is very poor, even in the latest versions.

I hate to say it, but implementing a central server - not necessarily dedicated, but a central server on their local network- something like Microsoft's Small Business Server - allows you to do all that you ask:
- Share contacts - Via outlook and Exchange's database.
- Share calendars - Same thing.
- Offline - I don't understand this. Do you mean "not connected to the Internet?" That is doable. Outlook also has an offline mode that's designed to allow users that aren't connected to the Exchange server to work, and synchronize changes when they return.

Act can also be installed, and work in tandem with, Outlook and Exchange.

A small business server can be installed and running for about 2k, software, hardware and labor included. The server is not dedicated to "just" groupware - it acts as a central file/print/fax store as well.
posted by disclaimer at 9:16 AM on July 13, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, folks. Small Business Server (SBS) looks really cool, except for its pricing. The server package with 5 Client Access Licenses (CALs) is something like $425 but since I have 7 users, we'd need two more CALs. CALs are sold in packs of 5 or 20. 5 CALs are $450(!!) so to get this running I'd need to spend around $875 just on software and then it would require a dedicated machine and, I imagine, several hours to set it all up.

Is ACT! really that bad when more than 5 people are using it? I don't think it's going to be hit hard or anything.
posted by redteam at 11:41 AM on July 13, 2007

Response by poster: Also, to be extra cheap - what can I do to just share contacts?

They're thinking about making an Access 2003 database and then having a few people access that file on a shared hard drive when necessary. Can multiple people access an Access database nowadays or is it just like before?

I wish Google did a shared contacts thing just like they do with their Calendar.

I appreciate all of your suggestions. I looked everywhere and couldn't find any practical advice.
posted by redteam at 12:27 PM on July 13, 2007

have a look at time and chaos... it's a great program, but it doesn't sync with symbian so I don't use it anymore. I think the three year old version is free or close to it now.
posted by bigmusic at 11:37 PM on July 13, 2007

Response by poster: We finally went with Horde Groupware.

I found out about it through a friend. I found out about several more pieces of software from this thread over at O'Reilly.

Before I decided on Horde, I considered:
ACT! and Microsoft (SBS) Small Business Server. Waaay too expensive.

I tried or considered ACT!, Time and Chaos (Intellect!, and older versions), OpenLDAP, Desknow, Zimbra, OpenXchange, egroupware, Citadel, Group-Office, Collanos Workplace, custom MS Access databases, vTiger CRM, and others.

I have a feeling that Google is going to add shared contacts when they get Jotspot working with Google Apps. When that happens, a hundred shitty little startups with crappy, overpriced groupware products are going to go out of business.

There is no easy, small, cheap/free contacts sharing solution on the market right now. Most are trying to be MS Exchange. I wanted something a lot smaller.

My only complaint about Horde is that it's on its own good machine with lots of RAM and contact lookups on a database of 1400 entries runs slow. Damn it. Support is also pretty lousy. No one seems eager to help you with anything, no matter how much you try to show that you did all your research first.

If I had to do it again I believe I would choose the free version of OpenXchange. It runs on Linux and someone even made a virtual machine that is mostly ready to go. It requires plenty of Linux know-how, though, and maybe even a full version of VMWare.

Thank you all for your advice!
posted by redteam at 1:43 AM on September 19, 2007

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