New software aims to breathe life into AOL |  Networking

Users will notice a change in content offerings as well, as 8.0 takes on a TV approach to programming, offering varied content and information according to the time of day and week. In the morning, users are likely to see news and top headlines, for instance, while on Thursday and Friday afternoons movie listings and entertainment options are more likely to appear.

Other updates include having new mail simply appear in users' open inboxes, without having to download it, and the service now automatically tries to reconnect if users are abruptly thrown offline.

The new software also comes with the latest version of AOL Instant Messenger (AIM), featuring new animated Buddy Icons that appear next to screen names on users' buddy lists, as well as Buddy Sounds. The new messenger also features IM Wallpaper and a "Music Share" feature, where users can sample music programming and videos and send them to friends on their Buddy List.

For fastidious IM users, AOL has also added a spellcheck feature to AIM for AOL members and a typing indicator that let's users know whether the person they are IMing with is composing a message.

In addition to these bells and whistles, AOL has made enhancements to its address book, message boards, parental controls and photo offerings.

The Internet Service Provider (ISP) has also launched some more prominent additions, such as AOL Companion. The Companion is an icon that stays present on users desktops while they are using other applications, alerting them when they receive new e-mail and instant messages, and giving them one-click access to news updates, search, weather information and other content.

Also on the front lines of AOL 8.0 is the enhanced alert service that sends users reminders online via e-mail or IM, or on wireless phones and other wireless devices. Members can choose to be alerted about breaking news, weather, personal "to-do" items or events happening in their community group, such as when there is a new birth in the family.

Another highly touted offering is AOL Call Alert, a premium service that allows members to monitor incoming calls while they are online. The service comes in response to feedback from users who said that they were concerned about the calls they miss while online, AOL said. Most AOL members are dial-up users with one phone line. However, for US$3.95 a month, users can subscribe to Call Alert, which lets them see the phone numbers of incoming calls and respond to the caller with messages such as telling the caller that they are online and asking them to call their cell phone.

The service has also been revamped for its nearly 4 million broadband users, who are promised added broadband channels, more exclusive programming and, later this year, CD-quality radio.

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