|AOL 9.0 Optimized
By Molly Wood
(July 11, 2003)
A newly humbled AOL is driving the upcoming release of version 9.0, currently known as AOL 9.0 Optimized. With dial-up subscriptions on the wane, AOL is throwing its weight behind a truckload of broadband content features; paid add-ons; and cheaper, bring-your-own-access subscriptions.
The upside: AOL 9.0 Optimized offers handy, bread-and-butter options that semisavvy users have been clamoring for, such as antivirus protection that scans all incoming and outgoing e-mail, teachable spam filters, and a built-in firewall. Welcome screens are even more customizable. AOL Mail now features a new interface that lets you view all mail folders (similar to Outlook or Outlook Express), and you can also double-click to read mail in a new Reading Pane instead of opening a separate window. (Finally, a reduction in clutter.) A new calendar feature lets you share calendars with your family members or friends and even subscribe to commercial calendars, such as that of your favorite sports team. Plus, you can sync all or some shared calendars with your PDA.
Broadband bells and whistles include streaming content galore, as well as extras such as multiple simultaneous logins and the ability to make voice-over-IP calls using AOL. There are even reports that it'll include a Web log (or blog) tool, currently called AOL Journals.
A new mail-management screen offers organization similar to that of Outlook Express.
The downside: Some needed features are available only as premium add-ons, including updated antivirus definitions for the rest of your computer (not just e-mail scanning). In addition, we can't help but wonder how many features you can pack into a product before it becomes virtually unusable, or at least overwhelming.
There's that AOL clutter, right from the get-go--and now, pop-up ads hawk "premium" add-ons such as AOL voicemail.
Outlook: AOL 9.0 Optimized is generously peppered with helpful features, long-requested tools, and attractive but unnecessary feature bloat. We'd like to see a little streamlining in the final version, but we suspect families and idle chatters will welcome cosmetic tweaks, such as 3D buddies that act out your emoticons (called SuperBuddies), and feature extras such as parental controls that let you customize your child's in-box to completely block spam or other unwanted e-mail.