AOL Delivers ‘Open Mail’

Looking to keep subscribers by making it easier to access their e-mail,
America Online rolled out a new feature today to let members download
messages via other programs, including those developed by rival Microsoft.

The Dulles, Va., ISP’s “Open Mail” offering supports the latest version of
the Internet Message Access Protocol, a standard for
retrieving e-mail messages that was came out of Stanford University in 1986.

The IMAP is similar to the Post Office Protocol, but supports
some additional features. For example, the IMAP stores messages and folders
on a server, automatically synchronizes messages and folders and display
messages faster.

“Members have wanted more choice in how they access AOL mail,” AOL
spokeswoman Jaymelina Esmele told “A lot of people
at work use Outlook or Outlook Express. This allows them to view all their
mail at once.”

The free service has been in testing for about three months and is expected
to appeal to AOL for Broadband subscribers, Esmele said. Besides e-mail
applications from Microsoft, Open Mail can be accessed through Eudora and
Entourage for Mac.

AOL members who access Open Mail through third-party e-mail applications
will still be protected by the ISP’s spam filters. Users’ settings that
block e-mail from certain senders, or that contain certain words, will
remain in effect.

Another new offering is the AOL Toolbar for Microsoft’s Internet Explorer
browser. The toolbar gives members easy access to AOL Search, Yellow Pages,
MapQuest, Moviefone, Weather and CityGuide. It also includes a built-in Web
pop-up blocker and provides quick access to mail and instant messaging from
the browser.

The e-mail and toolbar are part of AOL’s efforts to make its services and
content more accessible and attractive. While the ISP is still making money
for its parent, media giant Time Warner, about 2 million
subscribers are still defecting to lower-priced rivals and high-speed
providers every year.

The moves represents a slow shift for AOL, which once walled off customers
from other Internet players. But as users become more mobile, and more
likely to access their messages through different devices and e-mail
clients, flexibility is key to keeping users.

(Relations with Microsoft also appear to be thawing. Time Warner and
Microsoft recently made a joint
in a digital right management startup Content Guard.)

On the new features side, AOL took a second
at online bill payment tools for its members. Unlike its previous
incarnation, the online payment service is free to users and is being
positioned as part of “life-management” offerings.

AOL also recently introduced streaming media coverage of Major League
Baseball, to keep up with Microsoft’s MSN and EarthLink, which also have
baseball and other sports content.

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