It's not hard to create a Web site that works. But why settle for a scoop of vanilla when a little extra work will get you a banana split? Take your Web site to another level with graphics, sound and animation. You will, of course, have to consider the dark side of the Web, namely bandwidth (or lack thereof). Be prudent with the multimedia elements you add, or your visitors will be more inclined to watch grass grow than wait for your pages to download. Luckily, a new crop of Web applications creates multimedia elements that won't clog communications pipelines.
The easiest starting point for a multimedia makeover is to add graphics. But high-quality, 24-bit images are simply too big for a reasonable download time. To solve this problem, you'll need an image-optimization program to shrink graphics files down from 24-bit images to 8-bit and smaller (known as "indexing"), while retaining maximum image quality.
Debabelizer Pro ($595; Equilibrium, 800-524-8651, 415-332-4343). A recent emigre to Windows from the Mac platform, this program is at the high-end of image-optimization applications. Debabelizer Pro resolves the high-quality images vs. download time juggling act. The program's Super Palette lets you create a common palette that's shared among multiple images. Downloads speed up because multiple images on a single page share the same colors. A scripting function lets you create macros for frequently used routines, and you can batch-process multiple files, applying the same palette to them all.
HVS ColorGIF 2.0 ($99; Digital Frontiers, 800-328-7789, 847-328-0880) and PhotoImpact GIF/JPEG SmartSaver 1.1 ($29.95; Ulead Systems, 800-858-5323, 310-523-9393). For considerably less money, these programs offer capabilities similar to Debabelizer Pro's. Both produce good results for indexing 24-bit images, and both offer common palettes. HVS ColorGIF's indexed images are especially notable; indexed 24-bit images display little loss of detail or quality.