AOL upgrades instant messenger

America Online has upgraded its instant messaging service, adding file transfer, a directory of online communities, and a link to AOL's search engine to its basic chat functions.

AIM 1.0 made its debut in 1997. The program installs a yellow icon of a running figure on your Windows task bar; clicking it brings up a small window listing of your "buddies" who also have the software. You can see which are currently online and dash off a message that pops up almost instantly in the AIM window on your recipient's screen.

The new file-transfer utility in AIM 2.0 worked flawlessly (and is only a bit slower than a regular download) in my brief tests. This adds a powerful file-sharing capability to chat groups. AOL says you can also make files accessible to people who aren't currently online by giving them access to a library of your files.

AIM 2.0 has as wealth of security features for controlling who can send you messages or see your files. You can send a canned warning message to buddies whose communications are inappropriate or completely block access to your message window.

My AIM tryout went smoothly. I sent messages between two computers running Microsoft Internet Explorer and linked to two separate accounts with my local ISP. Messages popped up cleanly and quickly, and I found it easy to add buddies, compose messages, and prepare files for transfer. The interface is easy to get around, but the preference screens are a tad confusing.

AOL also owns one of its primary competitors in the Web instant messaging market, ICQ. Similar functions are build into Communicator 4.51 from Netscape, now an AOL property. Other instant messaging services are Yahoo Messenger, Excite Chat, and iChat.

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