ONLINE BUSINESS

Do-It-Yourself Storefronts

Inc. checks out do-it-yourself Web-page software.
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No doubt about it: the World Wide Web area of the Internet is trendy. Lured by the ability to use catchy graphics and electronic links to other Internet information, more than 1,700 businesses have created their own pages on the Web.

Many companies starting on the Web have hired consultants to produce the whole electronic storefront. But as the Web's popularity has increased, do-it-yourself Web-page software has begun hitting the market. Inc. tried out two of the earliest options.

Open Market, in Cambridge, Mass., 617-621-9500. If you have Web "browser" software such as Mosaic, you can reach Open Market's on-line mall at http://www.openmarket.com. Click on the "Learn About the Web" icon to reveal several screens that clearly explain the Web's workings and Web pages. You can then jump to the StoreBuilder option to create your own page. Open Market doesn't charge you to use its Web software. This start-up company makes its money when you open for business on the Web -- and it charges a monthly fee ranging from $50 to $300.

Open Market's StoreBuilder is itself a Web page, boasting easy-to-use graphics and icons. But a clear disadvantage to creating on-line is that your screen might freeze at any moment, meaning your hard work disappears.

Within an hour I had created three Web pages for my store, containing three product descriptions and warranty information. I could have held my grand opening that evening, at a cost of $300 to $500 for a store like mine. I've revisited several times to make changes.

Hype-It 1000, from Cykic Software, in San Diego, 800-544-4620, $549. Hype-It 1000 turned out to be just that -- a lot of hype about a product that should still be in beta testing. This DOS package lets users create a page off-line using a simple programming language. But the fledgling software has so many bugs that I gave up after a week of frustration.

The first rumble of trouble came when Cykic faxed a 15-page addendum to the directions for loading the software. Bravely, I forged ahead, reconfiguring my computer's autoexec.bat and config.sys files as directed -- only to be denied access to the program. "Buggy disk," said tech help. "We'll send a new one."

I finally got the program running, but it didn't include the sample home page the manual advised me to review. I skipped to creating my own page, but the software refused to "save" my work. A second call to tech help ended with the company's requesting copies of my programming files so it could troubleshoot the problem and adapt future versions of Hype-It. That's when I gave up.

Several new Web-page software packages are emerging, and some of them work with common word-processing programs. Before you buy anything, ask the software company for customer referrals and poll them. -- Phaedra Hise

Last updated: Apr 1, 1995




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