AIM Update Focuses on Image Sharing

AOL folds in its digital photo-sharing service and new personalization features into the latest Windows version of the company's instant messaging service.

America Online Inc. on Wednesday released an update to its instant-messaging service for Windows with an eye on digital-photo sharing and personalization features.

AOL Instant Messenger 5.9 integrates AOLs "Youve Got Pictures" service so users can store photos through AIM and then share them through instant messages and e-mail.

Instant messaging users are becoming more interested in features beyond text messages, such as picture-sharing through IM, said Edmund Fish, AOLs senior vice president and general manager of desktop messaging, in a statement.

"The AIM 5.9 update anticipates this and other emerging IM needs by providing Internet users everywhere wit not just image file transfer, but with a complete digital picture service, free of charge," he said in the statement.

The full release of AIM 5.9 follows the release last month of a beta version to fix a security hole in AIM that had the potential to open users to remote attacks.

The new version also expands AIMs personalization options. AOL adds to AIM its 3D computer-animated SuperBuddy icons that were previously only available to AOL members.

The more than 200 SuperBuddy characters express themselves with different animations and sound effects to match 75 commonly used phrases and abbreviations on instant messaging. When a users type "LOL" for "laugh out loud," for example, the SuperBuddy icon would appear to be laughing.

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AOL also increased its selection of icons, sounds and wallpaper designs, called AIM Expressions, used to personalize the client. In Version 5.9, users can choose among some 3,000 AIM Buddy Icons, hundreds of smiley expressions and thousands of sound effects and wallpaper designs, AOL announced.

Other news features in AIM 5.9 include a new buddy list tool for one-click access to such features as video instant messaging, the photo-sharing service, games and mobile IM forwarding.

As with previous releases, AIM 5.9 is available as a free download for Windows 98 or later.

At the same time, AOL introduced new paid options. While users get access to some AIM Expressions and SuperBuddy icons, they can gain full access for $9.95 a year, by paying month-to-month for $1.95 a month or purchasing SuperBuddy icons separately for $1.95 each or three for $4.95.

In June, AOL added paid options for two business-oriented services:Web and audio conferencing. Later that same month, it discontinued its enterprise-focused IM gateway.

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