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The scoop on FrontPage price cuts

Microsoft will drastically cut the price of its FrontPage HTML authoring tool and introduce two free programs for producing Web pages.

Microsoft will next week drastically reduce the price of its recently acquired FrontPage HTML authoring tool, as well as introduce two free programs for producing Web pages from Microsoft Office applications.

With version 1.1, the company will slash the price of FrontPage for Windows 95 and Windows NT from $695 to $149. Users of Microsoft Office will receive an additional $40 rebate on FrontPage 1.1, bringing the price down to $109.

In addition to FrontPage, Microsoft will post this week new add-on programs for the Microsoft Schedule+ personal scheduling software and the Access desktop database. The programs, called Internet Assistants, will take the native data format of the two applications and generate HTML pages. Internet Assistants for Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are already available.

Another add-on program due out this week, the ActiveX Animation Player for PowerPoint, will let users view full PowerPoint presentations, including animations and sound, through Web browsers.

With the reduced price on FrontPage and the new Internet Assistants, Microsoft is ready to push a strategy that will make web authoring and management available to a wide group of users. Microsoft officials acknowledged that FrontPage, which it purchased in January from Vermeer Technologies, was too pricey to fit in with this plan.

"When you're talking $700 that eliminates a lot of people. This puts [FrontPage] into the range of Word and Excel," said Bob Crissman, product manager for FrontPage. Before Microsoft's acquisition of the product, Vermeer sold about 1,500 copies of FrontPage, Crissman said.

FrontPage 1.1, a beta version of which Microsoft expects to post on its Web site April 8, will add a number of new features, including support for tables, frames, styles, and custom template creation. It borrows a look and feel much closer to that used in Microsoft Office applications.

But Microsoft will still face no shortage of competition in this new product area. Adobe's PageMill and SiteMill and Macromedia's BackStage, for example, also offer HTML authoring, site management, and creation of interactive capabilities, such as threaded discussion groups.

"There are two clear advantages for FrontPage," said Allen Weiner, principal analyst at the market research firm Dataquest. "It not only gives you Web page design but allows you to build whole sites [in one product]. Adobe won't be able to compete on price."

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