AOL floats test version of AOL 8.0

America Online Inc. (AOL) Wednesday released a beta version of AOL 8.0, the next release of its Internet service provider software, that includes features it says will make it easier for parents to monitor and restrict what their children do on the Internet.

The AOL Time Warner Inc. subsidiary said it improved parental control features in AOL 8.0 by making them easier to use. Parents will be able to see more easily the level of control assigned to each person on their AOL account and to adjust the restrictions over the Web whether they're at home or at work, AOL said.

Perhaps more significantly, the company later this year will start issuing "report cards" listing Web sites that a child has visited, part of what AOL called a new suite of "family-security" features. It said more than 16 million of its roughly 35 million customers use the parental control features in its software.

AOL 8.0 also includes new ways to send music clips through AOL Instant Messenger, and a new You've Got Pictures service for sharing and organizing digital images. The upgrade also provides better ways to manage e-mail and filter out unwanted messages, according to AOL, as well as new sounds and icons to jazz up Instant Messenger.

AOL began a more limited beta test of AOL 8.0 in June and expects the finished product to ship later in the third or early fourth quarter, the company said.

Also Wednesday, the Dulles, Virginia, service provider launched a new version of its search tool for AOL members that is powered by Google Inc.'s search engine. AOL said in May that it would use Google's search engine for all of its brands, which also include CompuServe and Netscape.

Besides offering results more quickly, it said users will be able to retrieve results that are more relevant to the region where they live. Tapping users in emerging markets has become a focus for AOL as it tries to grow its business against stiff competition from Microsoft Corp.'s MSN service and other rivals.

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