Here's a thing. If you add up the different places in ACT! that you can find things, the results are quite scary. For example, there are now four main detail screens (Contacts, Groups, Companies, and Opportunities) with a total of forty-three (yes forty-three) tabs, so that's forty-seven different places to both enter and look for information before we even start to count the areas within the tabs, such as Notes, History and Web Info. And that adds up to a whole lot of clicking and screen changing in order to get to the information you need.
This, frankly, is a problem. The only redeeming factor is that most people don't use all the available options. No, they are selective. If I think about the way I use ACT! for example I realise that I use Groups every day, but only to pull together contacts that are related in some way. I never, ever, use the fields in the Group Detail View.
Now, I have no doubt that somewhere out there in the ACTmosphere there will be people who do exactly that and use the Group fields all the time, which just goes to show that we are all different, and we expect our databases to easily yield different pieces of information relevant to our personal or business needs.
What we need is a simple way of mining and displaying that information in a format that suits each user, and which doesn't require any additional clicking at all.
I would therefore like to suggest that what ACT! requires is an optional, customisable "Info Pane".
I see the "Info Pane" as a vertical window, to the right of the main screen that works is a similar way to Dashboards, but without having to click into the Dashboards area. Is there room? Well, not always, but the laptop I'm using now has a screen resolution of 1680 x 1050, and the fields in the standard 1024 x 768 layout barely cover half the screen.
What would I like to see in the Info Pane? Almost anything I want. I might choose to add some Dashboards such as My Schedule at a Glance plus the number of Calls and Meetings completed this month, and Sales this Month. These would be static and would not change when I change the main screens. I might also want to add some other components that relate to the Contact I'm looking at, such as their Opportunities or their Notes, and there's still room for the contact's Twitterings. I might also want to display my Outlook InBox or the current currency exchange rate to check if I can afford to go on holiday.
All of this would help me to get the most out of ACT! by shaping the interface to display the pieces of data that I want to see whilst minimising the number of mouse clicks required, and, in addition, would also allow me to access external information whilst continuing to work within the ACT! user interface.