AOL redesigns its PC application for broadband

AOL launched on Wednesday a new version of its PC software.

AOL has developed a new version of its PC software designed to simplify and enhance how broadband users access online content and services.

The product, called OpenRide, consolidates in a single screen with four panes access to a variety of AOL and non-AOL services, with a focus on e-mail, instant messaging, Web search, multimedia and browsing, AOL said Wednesday.

OpenRide lets users access AOL and non-AOL e-mail accounts, links up with the company's AIM instant messaging service, and has an integrated Web browser and a media center for viewing videos, calling up photos and playing songs.

Until now, AOL took a one-size-fits-all approach with its PC software, but OpenRide represents a departure from this model with a more modular, flexible architecture.

Previously, applications design supported AOL's dial-up Internet access business, which AOL has decided to exit. With its focus on broadband users, OpenRide is in sync with AOL's strategy of attracting visitors to its free services and selling online ads, AOL said.

As such, OpenRide is the first AOL PC software that is freely available to anyone.

Although AOL is to be commended for developing a more customizable version of its PC software, OpenRide still has an entry-level feel to it that will likely turn off sophisticated users, said Joe Laszlo, a Jupiter Research analyst.

"OpenRide aims towards the mainstream, not very advanced end user, which is the classic, stereotypical AOL user," he said.

Still, the potential exists for building features into OpenRide that will attract more advanced users, because AOL seems to have given the application an open, modular architecture, Laszlo said.

Much is riding on OpenRide's adoption, as AOL battles for visitors and advertisers with mighty competitors like Yahoo, Google, Microsoft's MSN and many other players that make money from online ads.

The PC software is a key weapon in AOL's arsenal. AOL members make up 36 percent of U.S. monthly unique visitors to the AOL network. But they generate a disproportionate 80 percent of the page views.

Central to retaining these people's positive effect on the consumption of AOL online ads is their use of the AOL PC software, which subscribers used to lose access to when they canceled their dial-up accounts, although not anymore.

About half the size of the previous, AOL 9.0 version, OpenRide can be downloaded at http://www.aol.com/openride. It doesn't require any log in procedure except when users need to access password-protected services.

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