AOL Launches Windows-Friendly Software

Dennis Faas's picture

America OnLine (AOL) has launched a new version of its software, designed to work more efficiently with Windows.

In the past, AOL users have generally had to access all of their Internet services (such as web browsing, email and instant messaging) through a single screen (or 'window'), an approach dubbed 'walled garden' by some commentators.

AOL's tactic kept everything together in one place, but some users found it wasn't possible to use tabbed browsing. That's where you can quickly switch from one screen to another by pressing the ALT + TAB keys or simply clicking with the mouse. The software could also use a lot of memory and processing power, even if only one feature was being used.

The new software solves these problems by running each feature in a separate window. The idea appears to combine the familiarity and usability of Windows with the benefits that come from various Internet features working in synch with one another.

Because it is a new approach, AOL's plan isn't being billed as simply a software update.  The last version was called AOL 9.0, while the new software is entitled AOL Desktop. It's a free program and AOL is promoting it as suitable for all Internet users, not just their own customers.

In theory, the software should be much easier to use. There's no longer any need to go through a sign-in process before accessing web pages. The email reader can be set up to work with multiple accounts, including those from providers other than AOL. There's a built-in link to the MapQuest service, making it simple to include directions and maps in an email. And a feature called AppMap shows a single screen giving a visual 'map' of all the emails, web pages and messaging conversations which are open. (Source:

This isn't the first time AOL has tried such a project. They previously issued software called OpenRide, which ran along the same lines but didn't get a positive reaction from users. (Source:

The biggest question about the new software is who will actually use it. Existing AOL users who don't care for the old single-screen version have likely already got used to using other browsers or instant messaging programs. Non-AOL subscribers may feel it's not suitable for them, or suspect it's simply a marketing tool. From the marketing hype, AOL Desktop appears to offer something for everyone, but it's unclear how many will find it the best fit for their personal needs.

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