AOL to blanket nation with newest version of its online software

September 28, 1998|By Michael Stroh | Michael Stroh,Sun Staff

You've got mail!

And don't be surprised if it's from America Online.

The world's largest online service today launches a campaign to carpet bomb the country with the new version of its software, AOL 4.0.

AOL plans to distribute more than a million CD-ROMs a week- inside mail slots, cereal boxes, magazines, banks and even gas stations all over the country. By doing so, AOL hopes to shepherd even more middle Americans to the digital promised land. Already the service has more than 13 million subscribers.

The company says AOL 4.0 makes both its own service and Internet access easier to use by incorporating subscribers' most asked-for changes. The software is free and is available for all Windows-based computers. A Macintosh version should be ready later this year.

Many of the changes are cosmetic. Following Microsoft's lead from Windows 98, AOL has made its interface look more like a Web browser, with a color-coded tool bar stripped across the top of the screen. The redesign does make the service appear more organized and intuitive to navigate. For instance, type an AOL keyword or Web site address in the small window in the tool bar, and you're instantly whisked right where you want to go.

AOL has also spiffed up its oft-maligned e-mail service. You can now attach several files to an e-mail, and send pictures to other AOL 4.0 users by dragging and dropping them into a message instead of tacking them on as attachments. There's also a spelling and grammar checker.

The new software includes other multimedia improvements, including a feature called "slideshow," which can play "streaming" sound and video files as they're transmitted by ABCNews.Com and other sources instead of waiting for the whole file to download.

In conjunction with Kodak, the service also now has a "Picture Gallery," where you can display and edit family photos into an online album. If you want, you can click to send friends copies of the photos over the Net.

In chat rooms, one of AOL's most popular areas, subscribers can now type in italics, bold or underlined text to better express themselves.

Families will enjoy the ability to switch between screen names without having to sign off and dial in again. This feature will save time when Mom, Dad and the kids all want to check their mailboxes.

Other small tweaks make AOL 4.0 an improvement over its predecessors. But it's sometimes hard to understand why people want to slog through AOL's annoying "pop-up" advertisements and crude e-mail system when they can plug into the Internet directly through a local service provider.

Then again, 13 million subscribers can't be wrong.

If AOL doesn't send you 4.0 disk - which is highly unlikely - you can get one by calling 800-827-6364.

Pub Date: 9/28/98

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