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Online Catalogs and Orders, Made Easy: Page 2

By Wayne Kawamoto     Feedback
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Continued from Page One.

Test Drive
I encountered no problems downloading and installing Actinic Catalog and I quickly created a professional-looking Web site without any HTML codes or references. The program offered a good choice of attractive, professional-looking layouts that could be changed by simply browsing through design templates, selecting one and applying it.

Once I had a layout that I liked, Actinic made it equally easy to modify color schemes. The new preview panel lets you immediately see changes to your Web pages. Most small businesses should be happy with the Web pages that they create with Actinic.

Throughout, the program makes excellent use of tabbed interfaces to help you review settings and modify them. The main tabbed interface lets you choose between viewing and working with sales content and orders. A general-details tab offers unambiguous options for working with layouts, stock, links and more. I particularly liked the business settings menu that served up clear options for configuring taxes, shipping/handling, terms & conditions and order processing. Simply select the settings that you want or fill in the blank fields.

I found it easy to define terms and conditions, configure shipping charges based on quantity, order value or weight, and to set the system to calculate taxes based on geography. The program also serves a screen that lets you completely reword the default messages that your Web page displays.

Actinic's 'Explorer-style' tree is intuitive to use and let me quickly create a product hierarchy. I could simply drag and drop products to rearrange or move them. To add new products, I only had to right-click, which revealed a page to enter product data and links. As you would expect, the program offered lots of flexible options for adding product images and product descriptions. Actinic also provided an easy wizard that walked me through the process of uploading catalog items via comma and tab-delimited text files.

A QuickStart Tutorial offers eight basic screens that briefly talk about building a site and provide links that take you to the actual functions. The tutorial glosses over details and could offer more information. Perhaps in the future, Actinic could offer the option of a detailed walkthrough that would be more useful to novices.

While I was impressed with the attractive and functional site that I created using Actinic Catalog, I can see how the program's tools can be limiting to those who understand HTML and for businesses that want to create more sophisticated Web sites. For these users, Actinic comes in another flavor, Actinic Developer, a tool for Web designers that supports Macromedia Dreamweaver and offers features for managing multiple sites.

A major Actinic competitor is ShopSite, a server-based product that is sold mainly through partners that bundle the product with Web hosting at various price points, but can be purchased for a one-time charge. ShopSite (reviewed here) can easily build basic sites and offers powerful features that appeal to developers. You can evaluate ShopSite for free through a 24-hour demo version that is available on the company's Web site. I recommend that you take advantage of this, as well as Actinic's free (and better) 30-day evaluation policy to compare the two and determine the one that best meets your needs.

The Bottom Line
Actinic Catalog and Actinic Business are excellent programs for creating attractive and competent online stores. Both are worth a look. Actinic Catalog has a retail price of $499 while Actinic Business has a retail price of $1199.

Wayne N. Kawamoto is a contributor to eCommerce-Guide.com.

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This article was originally published on July 1, 2004
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