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New Web tools empower end users

February 23, 2000
Web posted at: 8:15 a.m. EST (1315 GMT)

(IDG) -- Get your Web site out of the hands of your IT department! That's the rallying cry of Web development tool makers, which are shipping new products designed to allow end users to manage content and create dynamic applications for corporate Web sites and intranets.

NetObjects, the Redwood City, Calif., provider of the popular Fusion Web design tool, will announce today a new development platform called NetObjects Collage that is geared toward large organizations whose IT departments have experienced bottlenecks keeping their Web sites up to date.

The NetObjects announcement comes on the heels of a similar announcement from Sitech Software, a Birmingham, Ala., start-up offering a collaborative Web development application called SiteMaker Professional that supports advanced programmers and also end users who have no experience creating Web pages or applications.

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Both packages provide prebuilt components for creating real-time Web pages as well as workflow, access control and content management capabilities. But you'll have to pay for all of that functionality: NetObjects Collage starts at $100,000 and SiteMaker at $75,000.

Companies that offered static capabilities are now adding dynamic features, and those that offered dynamic capabilities are adding other features such as content management, says Tony White, an analyst with Giga Information Group in Cambridge, Mass.

Even more significant is that these products provide ready-made software components that allow business users to create their own applications, without having to wait for the IT department to get around to it, White says.

"Collage provides tools in the box that allow people to develop their own applications . . . without having to know how to write the actual code," he says. "They just use the wizards and the graphical user interface to develop their own customized software application."

Other Web development tools companies include Allaire, which shipped its Spectra product in December without prebuilt components, and Vignette, which is expected to add prepackaged applications such as a digital storefront and a business-to-business exchange to the next version of StoryServer.

NetObjects Collage offers more than 30 prebuilt components - which it calls dynamic application services - for such features as authentication, personalization and search. The reusable components are designed for end users of any skill level to place in Web pages to create live connections to back-office applications. In addition, NetObjects offers complete application templates, such as one for an enterprise portal.

Built into NetObjects Collage is support for standard security and directory services as well as reporting and analysis tools. The software works with leading application servers including Microsoft's Internet Information Server and Lotus' Domino and Java-based offerings.

NetObjects Collage is server software that runs on Windows NT and will be ported soon to Solaris. Web site developers require NetObjects client software, but content contributors can use their Web browsers or office applications.

NetObjects plans to announce an outsourced service based on Collage in the next few weeks.

Don Carten, the Internet architect at Travelers Life & Annuity in Hartford, Conn., says he's excited about Collage's support for dynamic, personalized Web pages. A long-time user of NetObjects products including Fusion and Authoring Server 2000, Carten and his 10-person team oversee the development of six company Web sites as well as the employee intranet. "By integrating with the Web application server, Collage allows you to create a more dynamically-driven site," Carten says.

In fact, prior to seeing Collage, Carten says he was thinking of abandoning the NetObjects products because they supported only static Web pages. "We will bring in Allaire Spectra and Collage and evaluate the two to see what best suits us," he says. However, Carten adds that Collage has the upper hand because "we're a Fusion shop, so it would be really easy for us to migrate to this package."

Meanwhile, Sitech's SiteMaker Professional comes bundled with 32 preprogrammed modules such as frequently asked questions, calendars, job opportunities and other common Web site features. The modules allow users without programming experience to rapidly develop Web pages. SiteMaker Professional runs on NT and uses Allaire's Cold Fusion as its design tool and SQL Server as its database engine. No client software is required other than a Web browser.

Computer Sciences' Nichols TXEN subsidiary, a Birmingham, Ala., group that develops and hosts Web sites for health care companies, has been using SiteMaker since early December. So far, the group has used the software to develop three Web sites for health plans.

"The prebuilt modules have saved us time," says Noel Gartman, vice president of marketing. "Sitech has done all the back-end work to integrate a Web application with databases and transaction processing systems."

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