AOL, Microsoft Thwart Users

Certain versions of AOL Time Warner's client do not work with Microsoft's newest operating system, Windows XP.

Users of AOL client and e-mail services and Windows XP are caught in the middle of a compatibility conflict between the two applications and their creators.

Specifically, certain versions of AOL Time Warner Inc.s client do not work with Microsoft Corp.s newest operating system, Windows XP.

AOL users who upgraded to XP and are still running AOL Version 6.0 or 6.0.1 have received a warning message from AOL that the existing version is not fully compatible with XP. Furthermore, they will only be allowed to log in to AOL three times using that version.

To get around it, users must upgrade their AOL client to Version 7, the message says. Otherwise, they will be unable to connect to the Internet and receive e-mail.

However, users running a version of XP installed on new PCs are not having the same problem. Thats because the PCs also ship with a loaded and co-developed version of AOL 6.0.2 sources said.

"When Microsoft used to come out with new operating systems, they would take a lot of steps to make sure that existing software worked with the new operating system," said one source. "But they made a decision not to do this with XP, so AOL had to basically scramble and put together versions of its software that did work."

Mark Croft, a product manager for XP, in Redmond, Wash., said Microsoft had worked with AOL to ensure that AOL 7 worked "extremely well" on XP and that it gave users the best overall stability, compatibility and functionality with XP.

Microsoft had also "done the work" to ensure that AOL 6.0.2, the version shipped with OEM versions of XP, was compatible with XP, Croft said.

Earlier this year, discussions to reach an agreement to directly bundle the AOL online service client with XP fell apart.

The disconnect between Microsoft and AOL is cause for concern for users such as Scott Edelstein, an associate producer for a video production company in Needham, Mass. Edelstein was irked that he was forced to download the AOL 7 client after upgrading his computer to XP.

"It doesnt tell you that there is a special version of AOL 6.0 for Windows XP; it just forces you to upgrade to 7.0 after connecting three times," he said. "I hope the competition [between AOL and Microsoft] isnt hurting consumers."

But this is only the latest example of the tit-for-tat clashing the two companies have engaged in, as both push forward with their respective online communications, messaging and authentication services.

Last month, AOL, of Arlington, Va., released Version 7.0 of its client software, while Microsoft followed with MSN 7.0, a more .Net-enabled version of the Microsoft Network that will showcase Web services the company is developing.

Microsoft is using MSN 7.0 to pave the way for other .Net services to be more readily accessible directly from MSNs home page.

In addition, AOL Time Warner this week debuted AOL Alerts, its answer to Microsofts .Net Alerts, in its Instant Messenger for Windows Version 4.8.2540. AOL Instant Messenger users who download this version will be able to receive the customizable notification service for news, sports, finance and weather. After selecting which alerts to receive, notifications will be sent directly to the instant messaging client via an AIM Alert window.

For users who never want to be out of touch, the service will also deliver alerts to a cell phone, handheld or pager.

AOL will also compete with Microsofts .Net Passport single-sign-on service. AOLs system, code-named Magic Carpet, will allow users of many AOL services, such as AOL Instant Messenger and CompuServe 2000, to use existing screen names and passwords to sign in to sites that partner with AOL.

Compatibility issues between AOL and Microsoft software are not new. When AOL released Version 4.0 in 1998, customers using Windows NT were forced to use an older version of AOL because of incompatibilities with Windows NTs security features.

It was not until last year that AOL tested versions of its software designed to work under Windows NT Workstation or Windows 2000 Professional, the predecessors of XP.

In those tests, conducted with AOLs member beta testers running special versions of AOL 5.0, AOL developed a new system of connecting to its network that was compatible with Windows dial-up networking module.

Craig Newell is a free-lance writer based in Amherst, Mass. He can be reached at [email protected]