With the arrival of the Internet, dealers finally have a new range of applications to sell - from browsers to Web servers to email packages to Web page creation tools. Perhaps the most confusing of all is the Web page creation tool.
The reason for this confusion is simple: there are a number of ways to create Web pages and it is not clear that any single tool is a multipurpose one. For the simplest of Web pages, users can write their own hypertext markup language (HTML) code in a simple text editor like Windows Notepad.
But the code that a user can easily write in Notepad is certainly not going to produce a useful Web page. For anything beyond simple text, some sort of Web page creation tool will be required.
The best solution for anyone wanting to reproduce the documents they typically create using their wordprocessing software may be a new wordprocessor.
The latest versions of Corel Wordperfect Suite and Microsoft Office, for example, include the facility to output any wordprocessed document as an HTML file. In the case of Office 97, there will be the ability to turn Excel files, Powerpoint presentations and Access databases into something that can live on a Web page.
But these are all still general purpose tools that have not been designed to create mainly Web pages. If that's what you want to sell, you need to consider giving shelfspace to a few dedicated Web page creation tools.
Many of the software companies selling these products for designing intranet and Internet Web pages are looking for dealers and Vars with which they can work to establish stronger distribution.
One example of this is Canadian software vendor Soft Quad International's announcement of a new intranet Var programme to sell products like its Hotmetal Intranet Publisher (Hip).
The company says its four-point Var programme helps Vars use the new Hip product to 'grow their intranet business' by providing qualified Vars with sales and product training, sales and marketing materials, priority technical support and product discounts.
Of course, many dealers and Vars will be hearing the same message in both an intranet and Internet context from large players such as Microsoft and Netscape. The management at Soft Quad seems to realise this fact and is pitching its offer at the red-hot intranet market. 'The explosion in corporate intranets provides Vars with exciting new opportunities,' suggests Dave Gurney, chairman and CEO of Soft Quad.
'Hip is a solution that helps companies maximise the productivity benefits of an intranet. This represents a significant opportunity for Vars, enabling them to expand their product and service offerings to existing clients as well as attract new business.'
Soft Quad says that as part of the Var programme, its professional services division will provide training and pre-sales support to Vars and 'help certified Vars understand how emerging technologies apply to their client base, ensuring customer loyalty and follow-on orders'. Soft Quad says that ongoing seminars, white papers, technical bulletins and other reference materials are also provided.
The company is pledging that Vars will qualify for reduced pricing for its products and will also benefit from a named account manager along with priority technical support, demo scripts and customised intranet presentations. It further argues that marketing and promotional costs will be reduced through aggressive lead generation and referral activities via advertising, exhibition participation and direct mail campaigns and other co-operative marketing and promotional programmes.
While it should come as no surprise that smaller companies like Soft Quad, which have to fight to get shelfspace, are willing to undertake ambitious Var programmes, the wonderful thing about the Web, the intranet and the Internet programme is that it is less risky to do so than at almost any time since the early days of the PC.
Since Microsoft does not control the standards for Web pages - and neither does Netscape - you don't have to feel tied to selling their products to allow your customers to produce Web pages.
The same applies to supporting other hardware and operating system platforms.
In recognition of the fact that many companies still like to use Macs for design and graphics-intensive tasks like Web page creation, it is possible to install systems that allow customers to use a Mac system to create pages that can be viewed using Windows PCs running Web browsers.
This may be one reason why Adobe has put so much energy into its recently released Adobe Page Mill 2 for the Mac. The software includes a bonus CD-Rom with a variety of what the company calls 'ready-to-use Web content-creation tools', including virtual reality markup language (VRML) and Java applet creation software, sample Web sites and more than 1,000 Web-ready images.
Adobe calls this the Page Mill 2 'view-as-you-create' environment and combines it with support for multimedia in this new version. The company claims that Page Mill 2 software will save valuable time in the design process by letting customers drag-and-drop objects, launch other applications from within Page Mill, edit the HTML source and preview pages.
'With Adobe Page Mill 2, its support for the creation of HTML tables, the ability to drag-and-drop multimedia elements on to a Web page, and the browser-like preview mode, the program dramatically shortens the time it takes to create a compelling Web page,' claims Jimmy Dickson, director of new media at Reprise Records.
'We work with audio, video, photos and graphics on our site and our goal is to give fans an entertaining experience when they explore our Web pages.
With Page Mill we can focus on distributing cool content rapidly rather than geting bogged down with command lines and HTML coding.'
The bonus CD-Rom features fully functional versions of other Web-content development tools, including Everyware's Tango and Maxum's Tag Builder for database connectivity, 3D Web Site Builder from Virtus Corporation for creating virtual worlds on the Web, Symantec's Cafe Lite for creating and playing Java applets and Lizard Tech's Fast Eddie, which converts 24-bit colour images to 8-bit color.
Microsoft has been giving away beta versions of the upcoming version of its Web page creation system. This new Front Page 97 Web authoring and management tool also includes a bonus pack.
As Microsoft whets the appetites of the world's PC-based Web masters with this product, it is worth noting that Front Page 1.1 claims to be the world's best-selling Web authoring and management tool with sales of more than 150,000 in the first four months of retail availability.
The added features of Front Page 97 with bonus pack include support for new Internet technologies such as Active technologies and Java components, some popular HTML tags and claims enhanced integration with Microsoft Office.
The bonus pack adds Image Composer, an application for composing Web-ready images, to the Front Page bundle. By offering these capabilities in one package, Microsoft makes the claim that Front Page 97 'delivers a complete Web suite for managing Web sites containing advanced features found only in today's most exciting Internet sites'.
It is not only the features in the product that make Microsoft's Web page creation tool hard to ignore. The man in charge of the Front Page operation is Chris Peters, who used to head the Microsoft Office design team.
'Front Page 97 builds on the success of the previous version to bring the power of Web publishing to more users than ever before,' says Peters, who is now VP of the Vermeer product, the company that created Front Page and was acquired by Microsoft almost a year ago.
'We are pleased with the response and believe this third version of Front Page provides customers with a more polished, intuitive and powerful Web creation and management tool. By making the hottest new Web technologies easily available to all users, the product is a must-have for Front Page customers.'
Some of the new features of Front Page 97 with bonus packs include:
Support for Web tools including the Visual Basic programming system, Scripting Edition and Java Script, which are included as part of Front Page. Users can access Java Applets, Active X Controls and Netscape plug-ins through the toolbar or through new drag-and-drop capabilities.
Improved HTML support includes the ability to insert marquee text, watermarks, background images and sounds in Front Page-based Web sites.
An import Wizard allows importing of existing Web sites. Microsoft says that making use of precreated content is the fastest way for users to take advantage of Front Page.
The preview in browser feature allows users to view their work before publishing to the Web with any browser they have and on an array of screen sizes. The company says this should give users confidence in knowing their sites will look good to any online visitor.
A database connectivity wizard is supposed to walk users through the process of performing dynamic queries from a database.
Meanwhile, the bonus pack includes Microsoft Image Composer, a tool for arranging, customising and creating on-screen graphics. With this application, Microsoft promises that users can customise images by applying any of the more than 500 tools and effects included with the product, as well as by running effects through Photoshop-compatible plug-in products such as Kai's Power Tools from Meta Tools. Image Composer includes more than 600 royalty-free, Web-ready images from stock photography companies like Photo Disc.
The bonus pack includes Microsoft personal Web server, the Windows 95 operating system-based version of Microsoft Internet Information Server which Microsoft says provides enhanced performance and management features to make administering an Internet or intranet Web site easy. It also includes Microsoft's Internet Explorer 3 browser.
Finally, Front Page 97 is supposed to complement the upcoming Office 97 suite as it can handle both HTML and Office 97 documents and manage the links between them.
The company suggests this synergy is important in the growing corporate intranet arena, where Microsoft Office has been widely adopted. It will enable users to contribute to their intranets easily.
Microsoft suggests this will help organisations better employ the intranet as a form of communication as more people will have the ability to create and publish content.
A retail version will be available early next year and Microsoft promises that Front Page 97 will be available for the same promotional price as the previous version - $149 for new users while users of previous versions of Front Page will be able to upgrade for $54.95.
The real opportunity lies not in selling the software to create Web sites but in the expertise and training. Even with more powerful Web page creation tools hitting the market all the time, the real problem for most customers who are designing Web and internal intranet sites is that they just don't have the in-house expertise to get the job done right and quickly.
Any dealer or Var which has the knowledge and skill to both implement a Web site and train customers in how to make the most of their Web page creation tools really has strong and compelling value to add to their handling of these products. But start now, before everyone gets in on the act and the uniqueness of your selling proposition disappears.
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