AOL users: You've got update

Services: Version 8.0 promises safer surfing

the latest from MSN launches next week.

October 17, 2002|By Kevin Washington | Kevin Washington,SUN STAFF

Get ready for another flood of America Online CDs.

The world's largest Internet service provider has upgraded its software this week to Version 8.0, the most extensive effort to change the look and content of AOL since Version 4.0 was released in the 1990s. Among the changes then was the ability to insert photographs in e-mails.

Not to be outdone by the king of ISPs, Microsoft will introduce MSN 8.0 to its 9 million subscribers Oct. 24 with emphasis on similar themes. Microsoft's upgrade won't be nearly as sweeping as AOL's. Still, it's spending $300 million on a marketing effort to increase its subscriber base by luring away AOL customers.

AOL wants its product, which is used by 35 million people in 17 countries in eight languages, to be more relevant.

"Everything we're doing, our members have asked for," said Jeff Kimball, AOL's vice president of product marketing.

AOL 8.0 launched on Tuesday as a free upgrade, but you'll need a Pentium computer with Windows 98 or later to run it (a new Apple Macintosh version was released in August).

Overall themes include making the program safer for families and children; giving users more choices to customize the look of everything from the Welcome screen to content; providing higher-quality music and video for broadband users; and helping to bring people together online through improved sharing and chat.

Among the big changes:

Better spam detection in AOL mailboxes. With AOL 8.0, users can automatically flag e-mail from people in their "Buddy Lists" or address book so that they can more easily skip junk mail. Kimball says the change keeps users from having to check for e-mail in two locations - a main mailbox and a junk-mail box.

Easier ways to chat on specific topics. Users who want to chat about a particular subject will be able to use a new "MatchChat" function to search through AOL's chat rooms for a discussion on topics of interest - no matter the chat room title.

Faster reconnections after interruptions. Members will be able to automatically reconnect to the company's servers if a session is interrupted and then go to the area where they were surfing when they were disconnected.

More picture sharing. A new version of "You've Got Pictures" enables users to locate any digital images they've shot or received, either online or on their hard drives. The release also provides simple tools for photo editing and turning digital images into screensavers.

Greater parental control. Later this year, parents will be able to track where their children have surfed on the Internet and whom they've had contact with through a special AOL Guardian report card.

Broadband enhancements for customers with high-speed access. Included in the upgrades here are a "Welcome" screen with more flash and video content. Later this year, Broadband Radio will offer CD-quality music, as opposed to the FM quality music users can listen to with AOL Music when connected through a dialup modem.

AOL users can update their software online, "But there will be CDs everywhere," Kimball said.

In a related move Tuesday, AOL also announced that it would gradually eliminate third-party popup advertisements while users are within the AOL environment. The change will not affect popups created by other Internet sites.

In its latest release, Microsoft has also set its eye on improvements to parental controls and junk mail protection. If you're an MSN 7.0 user, you can upgrade through your Welcome screen.

Parents will be able to limit children's IM contact to pre-approved users and a history report will be available to let parents know what children are doing online. An enhanced junk-mail filter is included in the new version as well.

MSN users will also be able to customize Welcome screens and what's available through those screens, just as with AOL.

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