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-- by Richard Castagna
The Web's a great way to get the word out, but it's also an effective way for you to learn more about your prospects or to provide better service for your customers. The key to controlled, two-way communication via the Web is interactivity.
An interactive site lets your visitors leave information, as well as take away news about your company, its products and its services. Building interactivity into a Web site requires specialized-and somewhat more complex-tools. But the good news is that you won't necessarily have to labor over programming code. Several design programs let you construct an interactive site without having to know more than some basic HTML commands. Two notable representatives of this crop are Submit This and Cold Fusion.
Submit THIS is from Microrim, the company that developed the venerable Rbase database management system. Submit This lets you build Web page forms that you can use to collect information from your visitors.
Microrim does much of the work for you, providing a large assortment of predesigned HTML forms and other pages, and graphic elements like textures, buttons, bars and bullets. A database manager is also included so you can analyze your collected data and print reports. All you need to supply is a browser, an ftp utility and a cooperative ISP that's willing to run a Microrim-supplied CGI script. Microrim will work with your ISP to set up the simple CGI script.
The forms that come with Submit THIS are in three categories: Business, Personal and Organizational. You can also choose a style, such as Standard, Contemporary, Jazzy or Way Cool. Use the supplied forms as is, or edit them with the included HTML editor (and tutorial)
You use ftp to transfer the CGI script and brief instructions to your ISP. You also use ftp to upload your Web form and to download the data your form collects.
Submit This is available for $70; call 800-628-6990 or visit Microrim's Web site (http://www.microrim.com)
Cold Fusion is a little more complex, but you still won't have to get bogged down in code. You'll need your own Web server to use this development system, which creates interactive pages that can integrate with databases and e-mail.
At Cold Fusion's core is its proprietary HTML-like Cold Fusion Markup Language (CFML) and application server. Interactive pages are based on templates, which are a combination of standard HTML with CFML tags that make it possible to request, accept and process information from your site's visitors.
The nuts and bolts of a dynamic page application-security, application deployment, database connections and so forth-are handled behind the scenes by Cold Fusion. The product's open API makes it possible to create custom tags for specialized applications.
Cold Fusion works with any ODBC-compliant relational database (Access, SQL Server, Oracle and others). The pages and forms you create will automatically add, delete or update the database records, and query results can be viewed on dynamically created HTML pages. Report writing is handled by Crystal Reports 5.0; the reports can be converted and included in HTML pages. The product's e-mail integration lets you use almost any information-predefined, from user input or from query results-to generate messages.
Cold Fusion works with most major Windows NT-based Web servers via CGI or standard API (NSAPI, ISAPI, WSAPI). Cold Fusion is available from Allaire for $495; contact the company at 617-761-2000 or http://www.allaire.com/.