Application categories are a simple way to categorize software. The problem comes in when a vendor’s application doesn’t fit comfortably into a generic description like time and billing or practice management. Office Tools Professional is one such application.
For one thing, it’s a modular application, and depending on which modules you purchase, the software can be a time and billing application, a practice management application, a contact management application, a document/content management application, or a combination of some or all of these.

This year’s offering is pretty similar to the application that we tested last year. The user interface has been tweaked, and there are a few updates here and there, but the software still is comprised of one or more of six core modules-Contact Management, Scheduling, Time and Billing, Project/Case Management, Records Management and Document File Cabinet. These Modules can interface with Microsoft Office applications such as Word, Excel, and Outlook, but you don’t have to have Office installed to make good use of the software. You get to choose any three of these modules for the Standard Suite and all six in the Professional Suite. Pricing varies depending on the number of users.

The big news with the 2009 version is that the underlying database of Office Tools Professional has moved to Microsoft SQL Server. That’s good news, and bad news all rolled into one. The software comes with a copy of Microsoft SQL Server Express 2005, which is the free version, and should you have a large number of transactions, upgrading to a paid version of MS SQL Server is a simple task.

Unfortunately, getting MS SQL Server Express 2005 working proved to be problematic, and we finally resorted to Office Tool’s support, which got us up and running quickly. Our support rep told us that the SQL software sometimes doesn’t install correctly on a single workstation install, but that they haven’t encountered this problem client/server installations.

Once the install actually completed, it was smooth running. We like the Office Tools Professional’s time and billing capabilities. They aren’t overly fancy, but the screens are easy to navigate through and with a small but workable selection of invoices and other reports, get the job done efficiently.

Adding the other modules really ramps up the application’s capabilities, especially with SQL Server underlying the entire collection. Since the difference in cost between the three-module “Standard Suite” and the complete six-module “Professional Suite” is only $100 at the single-user level, we would recommend going for the Professional Suite from the get-go.

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