This is for the do-it-yourselfers out there. We assume you've got a decent computer and the hankering to put your business Web site up for all to see. But you can't do that without building an arsenal of Web authoring software. Thankfully, the days of cooking up a Web page by slaving over a hot text document are over. The current crop of HTML editors provide page previews, tag shortcuts and more wizards than Dungeons and Dragons. There's a program out there for every type of entrepreneur, from rank amateur to technophile. Here's how to get started . . .
First, how will users see your Web site? You've probably come down on one side or the other in the Browser Wars. Maybe you won't touch Microsoft Internet Explorer with a 10-foot cyberpole. Maybe you think Netscape Navigator is just so much Web wreckage on the shoulder of the Information Superhighway. Maybe you don't lose sleep over either one. Regardless, you need them both.
Because a lot of surfers don't upgrade their browsers regularly, you should also test with earlier versions (like Netscape 3.0 and Internet Explorer 4.0). You can visit www.netscape.com to download versions of Navigator and www.microsoft.com to download Internet Explorer.
Fortunately, you don't have to memorize all the text tags in HTML 4.01 to put up your Web site. But if you want to take full advantage of programs like CoffeeCup HTML Editor (see "Hot Buy" on page 120), you can get a jump on things with the libraries of Web building resources and tutorials at Builder.com and WebMonkey.com.
You know Macromedia for its high-octane Shockwave and Flash Web animation software. It also makes the popular Dreamweaver for Macintosh or Windows, a $299 (all prices street) HTML editing program that includes features like an integrated text editor for users who already know some HTML, Microsoft Office integration, and Flash buttons and text for adding spice to your site's appearance. Dreamweaver is especially good for integrating multimedia.
If you're not already somewhat familiar with HTML and Web site design, Dreamweaver's palette of advanced features may seem a bit overwhelming. NetObjects Fusion ($99.95) is a less expensive way to try your hand and is also specifically geared toward building sites for businesses. Available for Windows only, Fusion is designed with a drag-and-drop interface, various e-commerce wizards and pre-designed templates that can simplify the process even more.
Then, of course, there's Microsoft, which leaves no software stone unturned. Its HTML editor, FrontPage 2000 ($149), offers integration with Microsoft Office 2000 and comes with more than 60 business themes to give your site a consistent appearance. To get the most out of your investment, check with your Web hosting provider to see whether it supports FrontPage extensions. Also, visit OutFront.net, a "Microsoft FrontPage Learning Community," for its full stock of Web templates, tutorials, forums and links.
A good HTML editor will handle most of your Web site building, but sometimes extra programs add icing to the Web cake. Our "Hot Buy" (above) adds streaming media to your site. Or try Adobe LiveMotion ($299, www.adobe.com), which creates Web animations and interactive graphics. With a user interface styled after Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, LiveMotion is especially useful for those of you who have Adobe graphics backgrounds.
NetMechanic offers a host of tools for optimizing your site. Its HTML Toolbox searches pages for HTML coding, link and spelling errors. Try it free at NetMechanic.com. (The full version starts at $40 per year for up to 100 pages.) NetMechanic's GIFBot is a freeware program that compresses Web images for faster-loading pages. Never overestimate the patience of a Net surfer when it comes to slow-loading Web sites.
Most important, choose software that meets your HTML comfort level. Any of the programs we looked at can give your online business presence the room it needs to grow.