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Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story

THE LOGISTICS

Establishing a Presence
There Is More Than One Way to Build on the Net

By Jose Manuel Tesoro


A COMPANY IN CYBERSPACE; a permanent billboard astride the virtual highways of the global Internet. The idea conjures up images of a hip, happening future -- not to mention a seemingly easy and cheap way to drum up new business. But for something that appears to exist only in an electronic ether, a Website demands a surprising amount of attention and money. Like any venture, it is an investment. And the first thing it requires is a familiarity with the language and tools of the trade.

To set up an exclusive Website and Internet connection, a company needs three main components: a computer, special software and a link to the global telecommunications network. Any PC can be a server. At the least, it should have a fast processor chip, 16 megabytes (MB) of random access memory (RAM) and between 500 MB and 1 gigabyte (1,000 MB) of hard-disk space. But the more powerful the computer the better. That's because Web pages, with their graphics, sound and video files, eat up a lot of storage space. And constantly sending and receiving data taxes a system.

A PC with 32 MB of RAM and more than a gigabyte of hard-disk capacity will perform much better. The server will need an operating system such as Sun Microsystems' UNIX -- the most popular on Internet-connected machines -- Mac OS, or Microsoft's Windows NT, used in many offices. The computer also should be outfitted with one or more modems. The best models run at 28,800 bps and cost around $300.

A PC remains just that -- a personal computer -- until it runs special "server" software. These programs send and receive data from other servers or clients and package and label the information. In some cases, the software can even protect the data by "encrypting" it -- essentially turning the data into a code that can only be decoded by its recipient.

With wired businesses now the buzz, dozens of companies are touting server software. The best of the large crop is the Netscape Commerce Server 1.1, which costs about $3,000. The Commerce Server uses Netscape's close-to-unbreakable encryption. The Silicon Valley firm also offers a cheaper version that comes without the security features: Netscape Communications Server 1.1 retails for under $800. Both programs require Windows NT 3.5 or higher, 16 MB of RAM and 30 MB of hard-disk space, and are easy to install and use.

Netscape's servers are popular for another reason: 90% of the programs that receive and translate the data from the server -- software called Web browsers -- are versions of Netscape Navigator. Netscape's impressive market share is a result of a clever ploy: the company allows users to download the program free from its Website.

Netscape's dominance has forced competitors, such as Microsoft and IBM, to either build Web-browsing capability into their operating systems or ensure their systems support it. Microsoft's Windows 95, for example, comes with the Microsoft Internet Explorer, while IBM's OS/2 Warp is designed to work seamlessly with its WebExplorer. Microsoft is also offering free its new Windows NT Web server, the Internet Information Server, in a bid to chip away at Netscape's lead. The software giant claims its product works four times faster than Netscape's.

Browsers and some servers can only receive and send files and data. Another piece of software, called an "authoring" program, is sometimes needed to design Web pages. These programs use a formatting code called HTML, short for Hypertext Markup Language. HTML creates links within files to other files and is easy to learn: symbols are simply placed around words or pictures to turn them into links. SoftQuad's HoTMetaL Pro ($59) is one of the smoothest authoring programs available. It works like a word processor; the user just clicks on icons to mark the text with HTML symbols.

Some computer companies have put all the necessary software and hardware into a single package: a dedicated Internet server. For high-end users, Sun offers the $15,000 Netra Internet Server, which runs on the company's Solaris 2.4 operating system. It has 32 MB of RAM, 2 gigabytes of memory on its hard disk and a large color monitor. Though the machine, which comes loaded with the Netscape Communications Server, is the most powerful tool on the market for Website-building, its high price, surprisingly, does not include an HTML authoring program. Another machine, the Web Server 10, seems better value. Made by Intergraph, Inc. and retailing for about $4,500, the computer comes with Netscape Communications Server 1.1. The tradeoff for the low price: a lack of security features.

The final component is perhaps the most important: a 24-hour open telephone line so that Websurfers anywhere in the world can always drop in to have a look at the site. Leased lines can be expensive, especially for ones with a large bandwidth. But cheaper, though slower, lines are available for an installation and monthly rental fee of a few hundred dollars.

Even with the right hardware, software and open line, a company still needs a unique address or "domain" to use the Internet. Domain names indicate where the server is located and, often, whether it is owned by a school, business, organization or government. InterNIC, the Internet's informal "governing body," assigns domain names for a nominal registration fee.

All these costs -- not to mention the salary of a specialist to keep the service running -- can add up to quite a sum. Some companies that specialize in Internet connections offer the whole package (hardware, software and Internet connection) for anywhere between $3,000 and $20,000. But most entrepreneurs, who are intrigued by the Internet's potential but not yet convinced of its bottom-line benefits, prefer to test the Web's waters by contracting these "Internet service providers" to construct and "house" custom Websites for them.

Fees for these services can range widely. Hong Kong's LinkAge Online charges about $1,100 to construct one home page and four subsidiary pages. Singapore's swanky SilkRoute Ventures bills at least 10 times that for 15 pages-worth of information, which reside on a site linked to the company's popular Asia Online home page. SilkRoute also provides professional design and online advertising.

Turning over the work to a specialist firm is perhaps the best way to get on the Web. Only when the site attracts interest, or brings in business, should a firm consider a more permanent arrangement, such as setting up its own Internet connection. Caution may be the best policy: the Internet may have vast financial promise, but it could also become a big black hole for cold hard cash.

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