DULLES, Va. - Today AOL unveils version 7.0 of its PC client software, the latest in a long line of user interfaces that have made it the worlds largest and most popular Internet provider.
At AOLs ultra-modern headquarters, thousands of man-hours and an undisclosed amount of money have been spent to make the Internets training wheels even easier to use. Users will find automatically tailored local information, courtesy of the zip code supplied with account billing, new entertainment planning tools, easier access to streaming media and some updated e-mail features.
Ease of use wasnt really much of a problem to start with. The combination of start-disk carpet bombing with a super-friendly interface have made AOL the leading Internet provider online community with more than 30 million subscribers and 70 million regular users.
The big push with 7.0, said company officials, is to make the start screen a tailored local experience for each user. AOL has also linked its e-commerce offering ever closer to the customer, with direct links from stories to products and services.
"We deliver the mass market," said AOL President Jonathan Sacks.
With 7.0 the company is also delivering an auto address feature on its e-mail client and the ability to have multiple instant message chats on one IM window.
Also new on the software is a window of specially designed content for the growing number of broadband users.
Sacks said the whole effort is to identify AOL customers and give them more of what they want.
"Jeans make your ass look good. Calvin Klein makes it look better," said Sacks. "I think we have a deeper understanding of the interactive market than anyone."
Microsoft is trying to change that. Yesterday the company preempted AOL by releasing its own Version 7.0 of its client software for the Microsoft Network Service. Company officials said the new software provides faster service, more broadband content and the capability to receive alerts through the .Net platform.
"According to our research, 70 percent of consumers think that when it comes to the Web, useful is more important than easy," said MSN Vice President Yusuf Mehdi. So in our design goals for MSN 7, we focused on ensuring that people who use MSN will have the most useful experience on the Web."
But Microsoft with six million subscribers has a long way to go to catch up with AOL, both in terms of customers and technology. Last week, Microsoft unveiled improvements to its IM software, including emoticons, which allow users to punctuate their messages.
Thats a feature AOL has offered for years.