If you want to launch a Web site for your company, you can hire a Web site hosting company to house and maintain the server equipment, or you can start from scratch. If you choose the do-it-yourself route, there are several kinds of servers available that are geared toward small businesses. These include Microsoft's Internet Information Server 4.0, (http://www.microsoft.com/ntserver), IBM's new Netfinity 3000 (http://www.ibm.com), and Hewlett-Packard's NetServer E 50 (http://www.hp.com,). All three servers are priced between $2,000 and $3,500.
But buying the server equipment is only the beginning. You'll also need to choose a network infrastructure; the type you select will depend on the size of your business, how tech-savvy you are and how often you plan to modify your catalogs. Some good midrange packages that allow users to connect a virtual storefront to a database and generate reports are Cat@log Builder from The Vision Factory (http://www.thevisionfactory.com), iCat Electronic Commerce Professional Suite 3.0 from iCat (http://www.icat.com), and Microsoft Site Server 3.0 Commerce Edition (http://www.microsoft.com). These packages cost between $1,495 and $9,995 and include features such as indexing, searching, and a virtual shopping cart (where your customers can drag products to a shopping cart icon before adding them up and paying for them).
If you're a beginner, some popular e-commerce software packages to check out are O'Reilly's WebSite Professional 2.0 (http://www.oreilly.com), Forman Interactive's Internet Creator 4.0 (http://www.forman.com), Peachtree Software's PeachLink (http://www.peachtree.com), Yahoo! Store (http://store.yahoo.com,), Virtual Spin's Cartalog (http://www.virtualspin.com), and the newly released Online Merchant from Alpha Software (http://www.alphasoftware.com). Despite their simplistic approaches, these packages allow you to import HTML text into existing pages to customize your site as your business grows. Prices range from $0 to $799, and all programs are hosted by either the vendor or a partner ISP. While site-hosting fees are usually based on the number of items in your store, all start at less than $100 per month.
Melissa Campanelli is a technology writer in Brooklyn, New York, who has covered technology for Mobile Computing & Communications and Sales & Marketing Management magazines. You can reach her at email@example.com.