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AOL Previews New Client

Featuring personalized Web interfaces and enriched media content, America Online Inc. is preparing to roll out AOL 5.0.

New members will begin testing the software and Web interface over the next few weeks, while AOL plans for a rollout to general members later this year.

Through an innovative welcome screen, AOL 5.0 will provide immediate access to the service's most popular features and still allow members to easily personalize their online experience. In addition to highlighting new services, AOL will automatically deliver enriched media content when members connect through broadband cable or digital connections.

Standard channel guides, news, weather, sports and e-mail will continue to be the mainstay of the AOL interface. However, one new feature is uniquely designed to conquer common errors encountered when emailing pictures.

Developed in a partnership with Eastman Kodak, the program is designed to make sharing photos with friends and family as easy as sending email. The familiar "You've Got Mail" voice has expanded his vocabulary to include the message "You've Got Pictures."

According to Bob Pittman, AOL president and chief operating officer, the new picture programming enhancements were based on customer feedback and designed to energize members online experience.

"Once again, we relied heavily on member feedback and suggestions to guide the development of this product, with several new features evolving as a result of member input." Pittman said, "imagine, for example, the excitement of hearing 'You've Got Pictures!' and being able to instantly share photos with friends and family."

Ease of use and personalized programming play an important part of AOL's new interactive experience. Interactive calendars will be available online through the new software. AOL members will be able to further personalize their Web interface through the "My Places" feature, designed to capture a list of web sites they visit most often.

Jonathan Sacks, AOL senior vice president and general manager, said designing an easy-to-use interactive experience meant that the company would have to find new ways to improve member services.

"We are committed to delivering the easiest and most convenient Internet experience available. Throughout the development of the new AOL 5.0, we challenged ourselves to develop a product that met that goal and will take our members' interactive experience to the next level. AOL 5.0 effectively meets this challenge in many ways, ranging from added personalization to making it easier for members to register for the service and improving the way they get help from member services."

One of the new features provides the means for AOL members with quick triggers on their delete keys to retrieve e-mail from the mail center for up to 24 hours, without a call for technical support.

Although controversy has surrounded the new search product domain name, AOL Search is designed to query the entire Internet and AOL's exclusive content, without having to leave the AOL service. The latest version of Microsoft Corp.'s Web browser, Internet Explorer 5.0, will be integrated into the AOL software. The search coordination offers members seamless access for exploring the Internet.

AOL 5.0 will support all available broadband technologies because members are beginning to access their service from a wider variety of speeds. When a member connects to AOL service through broadband access, the new programming will automatically deliver enriched online content including streaming audio and video for online shopping and gaming.

Pittman said more AOL members are connecting to their service from both home and office computers. In addition to dual access to AOL services, many members need portable connections while traveling. He said AOL needed to provide a great online experience, no matter how members connect to AOL.

"What we have found is that the members who access AOL through a broadband connection in one location, whether at work or home, also use narrowband when they are traveling or are in a different location than their broadband connection. So if a member connects to AOL using broadband access, AOL 5.0 will be able to deliver broadband-enriched content and features."

In order to address AOL access for members with handheld Internet devices, AOL 5.0 will offer email functionality for 3Com Corp.'s Palm Computing. The new release will also make it easier for members to transfer information from their address books and bookmarks to another computer or handheld devices.