America Online Inc. is bundling its own Web browser into the newest versions of AOL Instant Messenger in an effort that is likely to expose a wider swath of users to the browsing features it has built atop Internet Explorer.
The recently renamed AOL Explorer browser is included as part of an upgrade to AIM 5.9, which AOL released in beta on Tuesday. AOL also plans to include the browser in its next-generation AIM client, code-named Triton, which went into beta testing last week, a company spokesperson confirmed.
AOL Explorer is separate from AOLs Netscape browser. AOL Explorer, formerly called the AOL Browser, has been in beta testing since late last year and is based on Microsoft Corp.s IE rendering engine. The Netscape browser is based on the Mozilla Firefox browser and Gecko engine.
In the AIM 5.9 update, AOL Explorer has replaced IE as the browser rendering the AOL Today page, a portal-like page that automatically appears during startup of the AIM client. AOL officials declined to say when the update would be generally available.
The AOL Explorer is downloaded by default with AIM, but AOL officials said that none of a users current Web browser defaults is replaced. Users also can disable AOL Explorer within AIMs preferences, which would cause the AIM Today page to be rendered with IE.
"We arent mandating that AIM users adopt AOL Explorer as their Web browser of choice, but rather, were upgrading our service and utilizing the software that helps us best deliver the AIM Today experience," AOL spokesperson Krista Thomas said in a statement.
But users can make the switch to AOL Explorer from within AIM. By putting Web browsing at the center of the AIM update, AOL also is preparing to expose its 36 million active AIM users to the range of new browser features that it has developed.
These include tabbed browsing for viewing multiple sites in one browser window and the displaying of thumbnail-sized Web-page previews when users hover over a link in their Web favorites or history.
AOLs browser also provides an anti-spyware tool called "spy zapper," which scans a users computer for spyware when the browser is launched. Another feature lets users look up information from the Whois database about the owner of a Web-site domain.
One browser feature missing in AIM is desktop search. The full AOL Explorer beta download includes AOLs tools for searching hard-drive files and e-mail.
Beyond the browser switch, the AIM 5.9 upgrade also does away with two pieces of third-party software—WildTangent Inc.s player for online games and the WeatherBug weather tool.