AOL 6.0

AOL is an Internet access and content service aimed at beginners, with the goal of making the online experience as simple as possible. It seems to have some success with this policy, having gained 29 million subscribers worldwide. The Australian branch of AOL is relatively small compared to its headquarters in the US, but employs around 40 people to adapt its products to the local market.

We saw a preview of the Australian version of AOL's latest client software. AOL 6.0 has been available in the US for some time, during which the Australian arm of the operation has been working to optimise it for this country. This includes changing the "look and feel" of the interface, providing Australian content for AOL's members-only sections, and making some changes to the way the client software works.

Where most ISPs concentrate on providing a connection and let the Internet itself provide the content, AOL supplies both the connection and what it hopes will be the majority of the content. By supplying much of its own content such as news and chat groups, the company can minimise telecommunication costs and attract lucrative sponsorship deals. The main focus of the product is to provide online access that is easy and friendly, fulfilling most users' desires without them leaving the proprietary network. AOL doesn't lock in users, but doesn't encourage them to wander about in the untamed wilds of the Web, either.

While the Internet access window within AOL might be only one among many internal links, the software itself is a fully-featured browser based on Internet Explorer. In addition, the standard TCP/IP Internet connection provided can support non-AOL software such "as chat clients, peer-to-peer file sharing applications, and multiplayer games.

Built-in features of the AOL product include Internet chat, instant messaging, a flexible e-mail service, local and international news and market reports, online forums, a media player, a monitored service for children, and a host of other ready-to-use services. While some computer elitists may consider AOL too easy to be fun, for many people who aren't technically proficient it can be a good introduction to online life.

AOL 6.0

Price: $24.95 per month; Phone: 1800 265 265; http:\\www.aol.com.au

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