Tech Industry

Best Software gets into Web Act

The company is putting rival Salesforce.com in its crosshairs, introducing an online version of its popular Act software.

Best Software has put rival Salesforce.com in its crosshairs, introducing an online version of its popular Act software on Monday.

The company's just-released Act for Web software is designed to help salespeople track sales leads and share customer data with their co-workers online. Unlike the desktop version of the software, Act for Windows, the new product requires no software on end-users' computers and doesn't require people who work remotely to synchronize data between their personal computers and their companies' networks.

That makes Act for Web ideal for small companies with salespeople who travel frequently or work mainly from their home, said Greg Head, general manager for Act at Best Software in Scottsdale, Ariz. Best Software is a subsidiary of the Sage Group, which is based in the United Kingdom.

The new software package is also an alternative to online customer information tracking software from companies like privately held Salesforce.com, which offers hosted applications for a monthly fee, Head said. Both Best Software and Salesforce.com target small businesses that can't afford more costly applications from companies like Siebel Systems. Best Software claims its new Web-based software touts a host of advantages over Salesforce.com's applications and is targeting the company as one of its primary competitors.

"Salesforce.com is the one we see most out there," Head said. "The press has really taken to their story."

San Francisco-based Salesforce.com and its chief executive, Marc Benioff, have commanded a fair amount of media attention since launching three years ago with the ambitious aim of bringing about the end of the traditional software business model.

Some of Salesforce.com's elaborate marketing events, the likes of which haven't been seen since the dot-com heyday, have turned some heads. In fact, the company is planning a big bash at Carnegie Hall in New York on Friday featuring performances from David Bowie, Laurie Anderson, Ziggy Marley and Rufus Wainwright. The cause for celebration? Salesforce.com has a growing number of customers, including America Online, and anticipates a profitable first quarter, Benioff said. It will be the company's first profitable quarter under generally accepted accounting principles, he added.

But Salesforce.com's media spotlight isn't the only thing on Best Software's mind, according to Benioff.

"We are growing at a rate that is envious," Benioff said. "There's a lot of Salesforce.com envy right now. Others would like to see the growth rate and success rate we have."

In December, Salesforce.com announced that an increasing number of its approximately 6,000 customers have switched to its software from SalesLogix, another software package made by Best Software. Salesforce.com says it's winning converts because its hosted-software model is more economical and less risky than big upfront investments in hardware and software required by rivals like Best Software, Siebel, Microsoft and SAP.

With Salesforce.com, companies access the programs over the Internet as they would a Web page--rather than installing applications on their own computers. The task of housing and maintaining the software and related hardware is left to Salesforce.com, which charges a monthly fee of $65 a month per user for the use of its software and hardware. That fee also includes training, support and upgrades for an unlimited number of end users.

Best Software's Act for Web starts at $249.95 per user, which is a one-time charge. The price doesn't include server hardware, ongoing phone support or upgrades, however, and the company doesn't actually host the software. Yet Head said Act for Web is less expensive than Salesforce.com over a three-year period.

Benioff downplayed the competitive threat and pointed to an ill-fated Web venture called Interact.com that Best Software launched in 2000 and then discontinued just six weeks later.

"Best Software is putting lipstick on a pig," Benioff said. "Customers don't want more software that doesn't scale."