In an effort to open more paths to its Internet services, America Online Inc. on Wednesday launched its first AOL search toolbar and opened AOL e-mail accounts to third-party mail applications.
With the AOL Toolbar, the Dulles, Va., company is offering its subscribers and nonmembers a new entry point into AOL Search as well as an array of other AOL content. AOL members also can view a real-time mail count of incoming AOL e-mail from the toolbar.
"As our members habits change, we are trying to be flexible enough to change our product strategy to be where they are," said Mike Sommers, director of product marketing for AOL Search.
Along with providing a query box for Web search, the toolbar lets users add icons to popular AOL content areas such as Yellow Pages, white pages, maps, weather, stock quotes, movie times and AOL CityGuide. Through a feature called "QuickStart Panels," the icons provide a drop-down panel that lets users search the content areas, Sommers said.
Other features include a Web pop-up ad blocker and access to AOL Instant Messenger. While AOL provides a toolbar for Netscape, the latest toolbar is its first for the AOL-branded service, officials said.
AOL joins an ever-growing list of search sites and other Internet services offering toolbars as the sites compete for more user loyalty and a greater share of search queries and the related search-based ad revenues. Earlier this week, RealNetworks Inc. announced that it is distributing Google Inc.s toolbar with its RealPlayer 10, a move likely to help Google gain a stronger foothold in the browser toolbar arena.
AOL partners with Google for Web search results and for sponsored links, receiving a share of the revenue from paid-search clicks. It renewed the Google agreement in October.
The AOL Toolbar, available now as a free download, supports systems running Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer 5.5 or later.
Also on Wednesday, AOL announced the availability of a new feature called Open Mail Access for AOL members. It allows members to access their AOL e-mail within e-mail clients that support the Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP). Such applications include Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, Qualcomm Inc.s Eudora and Microsoft Entourage for Mac.
Previously, AOL members accessed their e-mail through the AOL client or through an AOL Web-based mail application.
Roy Ben-Yoseph, director of e-mail products for AOL, said in a statement that the feature specifically would benefit broadband users and advanced users who "want more choices and flexibility for how they access these features, no matter where they are or what computer or browser they may be using."