e-Mail Glitches Plague AOL, VeriSign

AOL's efforts to extend the features and interface of its new AOL 7.0 mail-client to its Web client hit some snags forcing the company to roll back the upgrade.

AOL-Time Warner Inc.s efforts to extend the features and interface of its new AOL 7.0 mail-client to its Web client hit some snags this week, forcing the company to roll back the upgrade late Thursday.

Since at least Tuesday, when AOL attempted to deploy the new client, known as AOL Anywhere, AOL.com users have had sporadic access to their e-mail from the site. The service is used to get access to their e-mail from computers that dont have AOL software installed.

AOL rolled back the upgrade late Thursday and service returned to normal, according to Nicholas Graham, spokesman for AOL, in Dulles, Va. Regular AOL service was not affected in anyway, Graham said. Browser compatibility issues caused the problems, he said, though Graham did not specify what browsers and versions were affected.

"We really dont know for certain which browsers it is," he said. "I cant be more specific than that."

AOL Anywhere users contacted by eWeek reported the problems with Microsoft Internet Explorer versions 5 and 6. A user of IE 5.5 reported no problems with the service. Two AOL users contacted by eWeek said they could access their AOL mail from the Web using Netscape browsers after they couldnt access it via Internet Explorer. One IE user reported a message that said AOL Anywhere didnt work because cookies were not activated in his browser. He switched to Netscape and the service worked fine. Netscape is a division of AOL Time Warner.

AOL was seeking to add features of the AOL 7.0 mail client to the AOL.com client. Those features include address book, spell checker, mail sorting, mail status, unsend, access to deleted AOL mail, personal signatures and attachment support, according to Graham. The company was also attempting to make the AOL.com mail interface more closely resemble the AOL 7 mail interface, he said.

Those new features have been rolled back until AOL resolves the browser issues, Graham said. He said he did not know when they would be restored.

Users were frustrated by the botched upgrade.

"They have had it up and down all week," said an AOL user who asked to be identified only as "Brett." "They have changed the interface during the week three times."

Brett said AOL support personnel advised him to use the services Australian and United Kingdom sites, which were not upgraded. Graham confirmed that AOL used this workaround.

"I think it is interesting [that AOL would] experiment on the vast majority of their members," Brett said. "There hasnt been a word on the Website on the problems. Theyre just leaving us swing in the wind."

AOL wasnt the only service to have e-mail problems this week. An undetermined number of users of VeriSign Inc.s hosted Web and e-mail domain services [formerly Network Solutions Inc.] lost access to their e-mail accounts this week. A VeriSign customer support representative said unspecified "technical difficulties" afflicted one of the companys e-mail servers early this week rendering it inoperable. Company engineers were migrating the e-mail accounts on that server to another server, an undertaking expected to take up to 10 to 14 business days, the support representative said.

"We dont know the exact problem, but when we saw the problem recurring, we transitioned the accounts to another server," she said.

VeriSign spokesman Patrick Burns said the problem was not widespread, though he did not know how many customers were affected.

"Well work with any customer that has issues, but this was not any major system outage," Burns said, in Dulles, Va.