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Price: $24.99 per month, plus one-time fee of $49 to $299 for a template.
True to its name, Homestead QuickSites whips up Web sites in a hurry. As with Bubbler, you can establish an attractive, functional Web presence without knowing the first thing about Web hosting or HTML. But whereas Bubbler uses a blog-tool-on-steroids approach (operating entirely from a local client), QuickSites is better thought of as a full-blown—though approachable—Web site creation tool and hosting service.
QuickSites caters to individuals and small-business owners, providing everything you need: a hosted domain, an e-mail address, 100MB of server space, and blissfully easy site-building tools. Just choose from hundreds of themed templates, mix in your own text and graphics, and—presto!—you are online.
Such quick-and-dirty Web publishing services aren't new, but QuickSites surpasses most of them. Without so much as an e-mail address, you can browse Homestead's collection of 800-plus templates, select one, and start editing it. Before your credit card ever comes out of your wallet, you can see exactly how your finished site will look and even get a temporary URL for it. Contrast this with services that require you to subscribe before you get any hands-on time with templates and design tools. QuickSites lays all its cards on the table, thus reducing the potential for unpleasant surprises later on.
The only potential "gotcha" is that use of the templates is not free. In addition to the standard hosting fee ($24.99 per month; less if you forgo certain options), Homestead charges between $49 and $299 for the use of its templates. Thankfully, they're priced according to audience: Baby, Resume, Wedding, and most other "personal" templates cost $49, while business and service templates, which represent the bulk of the library, sell for $99 and up. Paying more, however, doesn't necessarily get you a flashier design or more features; some of the $49 offerings look just as snazzy and offer the same functionality as the $199 selections. Only at $299 do you gain anything tangible—namely, a few animated site elements. All told, considering what you'd pay a freelance Web designer for the same results, the prices are very reasonable.
The templates span a broad range of categories, from architecture to day care to catering. To simplify searches, Homestead lets you type in keywords or browse the index. After you choose a template, you can immediately start adding content via the browser-based QuickSite Editor. Click on any text box to add copy, or any photo box to replace the default image with a locally stored graphic or a stock photo from Homestead's extensive library. Your site can include up to ten pages, any of which can be renamed or reordered within the navigation toolbar. In short, QuickSite Editor is surprisingly capable.
It's also surprisingly easy. Move your cursor over any modifiable item and a help box appears to explain what it's for and how to change it. More hand-holding comes in the form of online training videos and classes conducted by live instructors, both free. Equally impressive, the company's toll-free support number appears prominently in QuickSite Editor, as though Homestead actually wants you to call. Alas, free phone support expires after 30 days.
If you need to outfit your site with more advanced features, like a blog or a storefront, you'll need to graduate to Homestead's QuickSite Builder application. This free download provides a wealth of tools (far exceeding what you get with Bubbler's client), all organized within a convenient, friendly interface. Available features include chat rooms, RSS feeds, user-downloadable files, and much more. But you can't use your template as a starting ground; you're literally starting with a blank page in Builder.
As a hosting service, Homestead provides all the usual amenities. You can modify your plan as necessary, adding or subtracting features like e-mail addresses, extra bandwidth, and so on. All told, QuickSites delivers on its promise of fast, versatile, effortless site building. It should be the first stop for any small business that hasn't yet staked a claim on the Web.
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