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Shawn P. McCarthy

Cheap and fast are the bywords when small organizations opt out of maintaining their own Web servers or business applications and turn to low-cost service providers. If needs change, they can abandon their new providers just as fast without forfeiting lots of money or locking themselves into certain platforms.

This hosting can save money for regional or field government offices, or for temporary locations, but it's not for agencywide use.

Say you need a quick, easy, temporary Web site outside your regular network. Check out IBM Corp.'s Web starter kit, at CategoryDisplay?cntrfnbr=1&cgmenbr=1&cntry=840&lang=en_US& cgrfnbr=2053181&x=4&y=11.

For $499, IBM will set up and host a Web server and work with you to create the first three pages. IBM staff members walk you through how to add and maintain additional pages. The price includes six months of site hosting and costs $24.95 per month after that. The initial fee includes domain name registration through Network Solutions Inc. of Herndon, Va., but any site with a .gov address does not need that piece of the package. A plus is that, should you have to ramp up, you can easily plug into IBM's other services for electronic commerce, remotely hosted applications and dial-up intranets.

Rental seats

Let's say you're tackling an emergency project that requires establishing an office for 50 workers for a month. You could buy 50 standard copies of Microsoft Office 2000 for $12,000. Or you could just rent access for Microsoft Windows 2000 virtual desktop PCs from for about $3,750. Inc., an application service provider in Fountain Valley, Calif., offers a wide range of online software subscriptions. You can extend the arrangement to multiple sites without complicated private network arrangements. You need only a limited LAN and an Internet gateway at the temporary site'not even that if the workers have dial-up lines.

Let's say you do build a small, temporary LAN from rented machines. You could rent a private intranet service from IBM or AT&T Corp., but it's just as fast to buy a cheap, turnkey Web server. These limited servers are sometimes called toasters because they're tiny and can plug in just about anywhere on a network. They're perfect for setting up an intranet for human resources documents, employee address books, pager interfaces, a knowledge base or a records archive.

Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif., charges about $1,000 for its Micro Webserver. Through a Web browser, you designate the access permissions and directories. See details at Another possibility is Twister Intranet Server, about $1,200 from Compact Devices Inc. of San Diego. Call 800-894-0519 for details.

Instant feedback

To quickly build interactivity on your site, download precoded, pop-in forms that collect data in tiny databases. You can create instant polls, publish the results, design visitor feedback forms and set up rotating text boxes. Visit, a site of Lycos Network Inc., to find the forms.

Perhaps your temporary office needs more disk space'right away'while you swap out drives. Pick up some instant drive space, at, or The latter site keeps files on your local and Internet drives synchronized but gives only 25M of space for free, though the company might offer more through an Infinite Drive initiative. The other free storage services offer up to 300M per account.

While you're setting up a quick virtual office, it's worth visiting sites such as, and for ideas about temporary payroll management. These sites can deposit money, and your payroll manager or theirs can write checks online, do basic accounting and establish a set of books. Need an online accountant? Visit

Offices dot com

These resources, taken together, can give several dozen employees the standard office functions for about $10,000. The high-flux world of Internet start-ups has developed something new under the sun: quick-and-dirty offices that ramp up from nothing virtually overnight.

Shawn P. McCarthy designs products for a Web search engine provider. E-mail him at

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