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RealTime IT News

AOL Formalizes 'Anywhere' Strategy

America Online Inc. Wednesday unleashed its AOL 6.0 software at Internet World Fall 2000. The company also launched its AOL by Phone service -- which gives anyone with a telephone the ability to tap AOL core functions like e-mail -- and the AOL Anywhere Web site.

Jonathan Sacks, senior vice president and general manager of the AOL service, indicated the launch will be accompanied by a media blitz that aims to capture consumer attention with 6.0's ease of use, new features and AOL Anywhere capabilities.

"This is the best AOL ever," Sacks said, echoing the company's new television advertisements. "Every time we iterate our product, we're out to make it easier...It still looks like America Online and yet this is the biggest rewrite of code in our history."

Sacks said the new version was based on extensive member feedback. It features a redesigned look and feel that highlights the service's most popular features. It also is the first AOL software to feature full broadband support. The company extended that support further at Wednesday's launch with the announcement that it is rolling out AOL Plus powered by DirectPC, integrating AOL Plus with the satellite-based broadband network.

Other new features of AOL 6.0 include:

  • E-mail enhanced with HTML support to allow graphics-rich e-mail and the ability to sort mail by date, sender and subject
  • Groups@AOL, a feature that subscribers can use to establish online sites that can only be visited by the people they invite
  • Instant messaging updates with "drag and drop" organization of Buddy Lists, new Buddy Icons and emoticons
  • An integrated multimedia player that supports all major formats
  • The AOL Shopping Assistant, which appears onscreen alongside participating e-commerce sites and provides instant price comparisons and customer satisfaction reviews
  • An expanded "My Places" section with more options for personalizing the AOL Welcome Screen
  • New printing resources allowing members to print jobs directly to participating commercial printing companies
  • New content channels.

AOL 6.0 is the first AOL Anywhere client. The software saves subscribers' address books and calendars to AOL's servers rather than to their hard disks. While some have said that this raises privacy concerns, AOL said this enables users to access these features from multiple locations and multiple devices.

The AOL Anywhere Web site is a further step in this direction. The site is a one-stop, fully customizable home page that allows AOL members to access features, news and information throughout the day. It allows members access to their e-mail, stock portfolio, calendar, and Buddy List. Users also get their own personalized "My AOL" online page and can customize the type of information they can receive by using AOL by Phone, an Internet-ready wireless phone, a handheld organizer or other mobile devices.

To top it off, AOL by Phone gives users access to e-mail, stock quotes, weather information and news -- all by telephone. Any telephone can be used to access the features, even rotary phones. AOL by Phone is a voice portal built on technology from Quack, a company AOL acquired in August. The voice recognition technology was developed by SpeechWorks International.

"AOL Anywhere is more than a vision, it's a reality," Sacks said. "In the future, we're not going to think, "We're on America Online," we're always going to be there."

AOL's aggressive marketing campaign for the new software will include a multi-million dollar television campaign focused on the new software's added convenience and ease-of-use, as well as AOL's core bread-and-butter privacy, safety and security offerings.

The software disks will be distributed in national and regional retail chains, including supermarkets and department stores. Some of the distribution partners