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Look, I Made My Company's Web Page Myself
Three office suites let Web novices create simple sites fast

A Web site would proclaim your products and services to the world. But what if you can't afford to hire somebody to create one, let alone have the time and the skills to do the job yourself?

Help is as close as the office software suite you probably have on your desktop. The three most popular packages -- Microsoft Office, Lotus SmartSuite, and WordPerfect Office -- include programs designed to help nontechnical users create basic sites.

"I can have a Web site up in 20 minutes -- if we stop for a coffee break," brags Micheline "Tink" Long of Palmdale, Calif. Although she's an office-automation consultant, Long has never learned HTML, the program language used to create Web pages. Her weapon of choice: FastSite, which comes with Lotus SmartSuite's Millennium Edition.

A competing suite, Corel's WordPerfect Office 2000, includes another do-it-yourself Web-creation tool called Trellix. Microsoft Office 2000 Premium Edition, which will be released early this summer, offers FrontPage 2000. Macintosh users don't have it so easy: They must buy a separate Web-creation program such as Adobe PageMill.

Of course, these basic programs aren't going to let you create anything wildly complex or original, unless you have some technical skills already. Still, you can certainly mount a respectable-looking, brochure-type site, with graphics, text, and hyperlinks.

EASE OF USE? Business Week Online examined FastSite, Trellix, and FrontPage 2000 to see just how easy they are to use. A few general points: The basic process is similar for each program. They come with templates -- a series of prepared Web pages containing graphics, backgrounds, and fonts -- that give your site a "look" -- say, Victorian or Art Deco. Within those templates, you add your own content, then "publish" the site by logging onto the Net and uploading the pages to a Web server. What's that? A Web server is basically a large computer that stores Web pages and "serves" them to Web surfers who come to your site. Most Internet service providers manage servers that you can use to publish a simple site. Alternatively, you could obtain server space with the help of an outside technical consultant.

FastSite is the easiest to use of these tools. Write your text -- adding any images to the file as you go along -- in such programs as Microsoft Word or Word Pro. FastSite then displays a series of dialog boxes. Select a template and the source files that will make up your site -- and each document you select becomes a separate page. FastSite then converts those documents to HTML pages and applies them to the template you selected. If you want to make changes once the material is in HTML, you have to go back to the word processing file and insert the updated material into the template again. FastSite doesn't let you edit in HTML, which can be inconvenient.

In any case, publishing is simple with FastSite. Type into a dialog box a password and address for the Web server, which you get from your Internet service provider or other Web hosting outfit.

Trellix' forte is breaking up long, word processing documents into smaller, more readable Web pages. For instance, you can choose to create a separate Web page for each page in a document. Or, if you used headings to divide the document into sections, Trellix will make new Web pages starting with those headings. The program then imports the document, breaks it into separate pages, and inserts hyperlinks, so readers can click from one page to another.

Trellix also automatically creates what it calls maps -- little boxes at the top of each Web page that represent all the other pages in your site. When viewing the map in a Web browser, place your cursor over one of the boxes, and the name of the page appears on-screen. Click on the box to jump to that page.

Unlike FastSite, Trellix lets you add graphics and text separately to the template. You can also edit in HTML.

The drawback with Trellix shows up at the publishing stage. It uses a program that comes with Windows called the Web Publishing Wizard. Wizards are supposed to simplify complex processes by walking you through each step via dialog boxes. But this wizard requires you to know such arcana as which technical protocol to use for transferring files to the server from your PC. For that, you'll probably have to ask your ISP or a technician.

BELLS 'N' WHISTLES. Microsoft's FrontPage 2000 packs the most power of the three products. It's really a professional-level Web-creation tool. Yet it has an impressive number of aids that let novices who don't understand the behind-the-scenes complexities create basic sites in a snap.

Specifically, FrontPage 2000 uses a wizard to guide you in selecting the pages for your site -- say, a home page or one describing your products. The wizard asks what topics you want on each page, such as a mission statement on your opening page. And, of course, you can choose templates. FrontPage 2000 then automatically creates your site with appropriate section headings and dummy text, which you replace with your own. Publishing is simple: Log onto the Net, enter your server address and password, and upload the pages to the server.

If you want to go beyond the basics and add such frills as animated icons and news tickers that scroll across the screen, you'll have to master more complex details of FrontPage 2000. It's not too daunting -- about as hard as learning a spreadsheet program. The other two programs don't offer such extras.

Of course, office-automation consultant Long will tell you that Web froufrous such as scrolling tickers are overrated. When you need to get your name out on the Web fast, simplicity is the watchword. "Somebody who has never created a site before can build one in 10 minutes," she says. "It won't have bells and whistles. But that often doesn't matter." More important is the visceral satisfaction of being able to say: "I did it myself."

David Haskin in Madison, Wis.

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