AOL Expands Its Browser Beta

The company opens access to a test version of its latest browser to its 36 million instant-messaging users.

America Online has opened a larger public beta of an AOL-branded Web browser that is based on Microsofts Internet Explorer.

The AOL Browser beta, which started in October with a select group of AOL subscribers, is now open to AOL members as well as to the 36 million active users of AOL Instant Messenger, an AOL spokeswoman confirmed Tuesday.

The beta was expanded on Friday. The AOL Browser is the companys latest Web browser project that adds features such as tabbed browsing, thumbnail previews of previous pages, and pop-up blocking and security options on top of the IE rendering engine.

AOL officials declined to say when the latest browser would be generally available.

AOL Browser is a standalone application that is separate both from AOLs client for subscribers and from its Netscape browser. Another update of the Netscape browser, which is based upon the Gecko rendering engine from the open-source Mozilla Foundation, is expected to be launched in beta later this month.

/zimages/2/28571.gifClick here to read more about Netscapes last browser upgrade.

Along with IE add-ons, the AOL Browser beta provides tie-ins to other AOL services. AOL Search, which was recently revamped, receives top billing in the browser by appearing as one of three options in a slide-out panel displayed on the browsers left side, said AOL spokeswoman Jaymelina Esmele.

AOL also is using the browser to deliver its desktop search service. A beta of AOLs desktop search is integrated into the browser, meaning that an index of local content such as files, photos and e-mails is created when the browser is downloaded. The browsers search function also retrieves desktop results.

"[AOL Browser] is part of our initiative to reach an audience on the Web beyond AOL members, so this browser will give them an alternative browsing experience," Esmele said.

AOL has begun remaking a range of its online services in order to broaden its Web reach. Along with updating AOL Search, the company has begun testing a Web-based e-mail service that is expected to launch later this year and has introduced a search toolbar.

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