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There are two main types of construction software: "stand alone" programs that do just one thing, like estimating or accounting; and "integrated" software that combines several programs - estimating, job cost, accounting, scheduling, and even CAD - into a single system. The advantage of integrated software is that data entered one time can be used by several different modules without re-keying. Unfortunately, integrated software packages are complicated and take a long time to learn to use. It can be six months or more before everything is up and running smoothly.

In the middle ground are stand-alone programs that integrate with just one other program. Lately, I've been interested in programs that connect to Quicken and QuickBooks, the popular bookkeeping software from Intuit. One estimating program that does a nice job of sending a budget to QuickBooks is called LiteningQuick Estimating from Litening Software.

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LiteningQuick ($149) requires Windows 95 or 98 and is available directly from Litening Software, 2450 Peratta Blvd., Suite 207, Freemont, CA 94536; 800/333-6675 (orders only); 510/713-7090.

  This Windows-based program is in its third version, and shows a lot of maturity from earlier versions. If the promise of total integration has eluded you, don't despair - there are off-the-shelf answers, and LiteningQuick is one of them. Class codes. Before you can start estimating, you need to select a set of categories, or Class Codes, that will organize the estimate data. LiteningQuick provides three sets: the 16 CSI (Construction Specifications Institute) divisions; the National Association of Home Builders categories; and a standard set of 13 codes built into the program. You can add or delete predefined class codes, or use the Your Company tab to create your own codes (Figure 1). igure 1.LiteningQuick comes with three ready-made sets of database categories, called Classes. You can add or delete classes, or build your own custom list. The database is incomplete, however. Most items, called Cost Codes, will have to be entered from scratch before you can start estimating. Incidentally, the display screens in LiteningQuick use several sets of tabs, just like the tabs on manila folders. When you click on a tab, the menu "unfolds," displaying a list of choices. The tabs are a wonderful way to present large amounts of information in an easy-to-understand metaphor.