Bring your business PC up to snuff with the best software for 2005.
During the past decade or so as a software reviewer, I have come across certain programs I consider so innovative and powerful that they have become essential components on my PC. These are “cherry- picked” titles, software packages that made a huge splash when they first entered the business arena and have withstood the test of time while competitors have withered away. In my opinion the following titles are worth your serious consideration.
If you’re going to buy just one new program this year, make it this one. There are simply too many worms, viruses, Trojan horses and other cybergoblins lurking in the dark corners of the Internet to venture online without protection. As you probably know, if you inadvertently download a maliciously created gremlin, you could find it eating your hard drive for breakfast the next morning.
The Norton Internet Security folks have been safeguarding innocents from Web ne’er-do-wells for years now, and at this point, have pretty much got it down to a science. This bundle actually contains five Norton programs: AntiVirus 2005, Personal Firewall, Privacy Control, AntiSpam and Productivity Control. All have the ability to be continually updated via the Internet for a full year—which, as far as I’m concerned, makes this package worth the price of admission.
One of the key benefits of these updates is that anytime a new virus or worm surfaces on the Web, a new guard against it almost immediately materializes on the Symantec website. Meanwhile, if you so choose, the antivirus module will scan incoming and outgoing e-mail for anything suspicious, and when it does find a questionable file, will offer you the option of placing that file in “quarantine.” With this thoughtful feature, you can verify that the suspect file is in fact evil in nature before you delete it. Other modules in the bundle enable you to keep the personal data on your PC confidential, beat back those ever-persistent spammers, and set up varying Internet access privileges for your PC if it has more than one user.
You can usually find Norton Internet Security at a deep discount at the beginning of the year, when it’s often also bundled with a popular tax program.
Technically speaking, this is a hardware product. But it has been included as a viable Internet security alternative simply because security is so important. Designed to enable multiple users to share the same Internet connection, the I-604 comes with a powerful firewall that stops hackers in their tracks. The router is not as multifaceted as Norton Internet Security but is a good start and provides an effective backup for people who want maximum firewall protection on the Web.
Is your brand-new PC wheezing through the day after only a few weeks of use? Chances are, spyware could be the culprit. Hundreds of companies throughout the world believe it’s their undisputed right to embed little spyware programs on your hard drive to track everywhere you go—and everything you do—on the Web. Besides being outright violations of privacy, these little critters often significantly reduce your PC’s performance. Spy Sweeper from Webroot does an excellent job of rooting out the buggers each day and allowing you to surf anonymously again. Bonus: The program comes with a 1-year subscription to the latest spyware cleaning routines, which can be automatically updated from Webroot’s site.
This solid companion program to Spy Sweeper squeegees clean all the digital junk your hard drive collects during normal use of many common programs. Simply click a button, and Window Washer will polish up your Web browser, your Windows operating system programs like Wordpad and Clipboard, and the workings of approximately 60 other commonly used programs.
I’ve tried all the various incarnations of Kiplinger’s tax-filing products—as well as those of its chief competitor, TurboTax—and I still prefer Kiplinger’s just-give-me-the-basics offering. This product is custom-made for people who would rather engage in just about any activity other than tax preparation. (A root canal performed with rusty farm implements comes to mind.) The program guides you through tax filing in a simple question-and-answer format and then checks your work with an audit buster. Buy it year after year, and Tax Cut will instantly import all your key personal data from the prior year. Plus you can download a state tax module—usually for about $20 more—which will remanipulate the data on your federal form and crank out your state taxes in a matter of minutes. You get peace of mind at a chump-change price.
This is one powerful program for pulling together every shred of data you have on a customer, keeping it in one place, and easily manipulating all that information from a variety of perspectives. Besides basic contact info, ACT will track notes of conversations, quotes, e-mails and customer personality quirks—and then spit out all the insights in easily understandable reports. In addition, data stored in the program can be synchronized with your Palm Pilot or Pocket PC, or exported to another database program.
One of the things that have impressed me most about ACT as I’ve used its various iterations over the past 6 years: The program has never once crashed or gone buggy on me. That’s quite a track record.
Once you’re comfortable with ACT, you may want to add an e-mail merge program like Broadc@st HTML from Mailworkz to your promotional arsenal. The program gives you the unique ability to create a template e-mail and automatically insert personal information from your customer database. The result: Each of your e-mails is custom-tailored, with the customer’s name, business name and any other personal variables you’d like to include.
Broadc@st HTML also comes with an optional ezTrackZ (www.eztrackz.com) online monitoring service, which will automatically report back on every customer who opens your e-mail—as well as every link the customer clicks on inside your e-mail. EzTrackZ will even generate a report indicating which clicks resulted in sales. (Mailworkz offers a free, 14-day trial of ezTrackZ, with entry-level activation of the service starting at $99 a year.)
While you are giving Broadc@st HTML a test run, you may also want to experiment with Campaign8, another e-mail merge program. Like Broadc@st HTML, Campaign8 tracks who opens your e-mails and monitors related clicks. The major difference is that the click-tracking function is built-in on Campaign8. Essentially, once you buy Campaign8, you never need to pay additional fees to monitor clicks.
As even the most casual PC users realize, MS Office is the standard productivity software for happy keypunchers the world over. There’s a reason for that: Generally speaking, MS Office is tough to beat as an all-around performer. As a business owner, you’ll probably want the Pro edition, which includes—in addition to Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Outlook—extras like Business Contact Manager for Outlook, Publisher and Access. Access comes in especially handy for users who want to easily export a database from ACT and import it into an e-mail merge program like Broadc@st HTML or Campaign8.
Similar to MS Office but with fewer features (and a significantly lower price point), WordPerfect Office has often won fans for its ability to customize documents down to the finest detail. Its “reveal codes” feature, for example, enables you to “look under the hood” of any document and make subtle changes in the code to achieve the precise look you’d like. Another extremely powerful feature is a module that enables you to instantly export a WordPerfect document as an Adobe PDF document—something MS Word cannot do. Other key programs in this bundle include Quattro Pro, a spreadsheet package; and Presentations, a graphics/presentation creation tool that outputs to your PC and the Web.
While many PC users are vaguely aware that they can somehow create macros for their various programs to automate every- day tasks, most people are virtually clueless about how to scare up such puppies. QuickKeys specializes in simplifying the process, enabling you to eliminate much of the drone work associated with starting programs, as well as many of the related, repetitive tasks once you’re inside. In a phrase: handy and dandy.