Newly released CompuServe 2000 6.0 mimics AOL

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One of the original e-mail providers, CompuServe, isn't for geeks anymore. A newly unveiled interface gives the venerable service some of the functions of its parent, America Online.

The CompuServe 2000 interface transforms the service to an Internet service provider with an AOL heart. Positioned as the value offering of the AOL family, CompuServe continues to add ease-of-use enhancements and community features.

CompuServe is now taking orders for CDs of CompuServe 2000 6.0, but current customers can download a free upgrade at CompuServe.com. New features in 6.0 include an improved toolbar, e-mail sorting, a Web-based address book and calendar, a media player, and instant messaging customization.

The CompuServe 2000 basic plan costs $9.95 monthly for 20 hours, or $19.95 for unlimited use. Targeting computer and Web novices, CompuServe also offers a variety of rebates through retail partners for new PC buyers. With its range of prices and focus on simplicity and communications, CompuServe 2000 has become the cheaper, simpler AOL-a far cry from its technophile service of old.

A Bargain AOL

As a separate brand under the AOL umbrella, CompuServe targets the budget-minded customer through its rebates, says Bob Kington, CompuServe vice president of programming. "AOL is the premium brand while we are the value brand," he says.

While that's a change from CompuServe's early role, Kington says the revamping is successful. The service has acquired 3 million new members worldwide since its relaunch in 1999, he adds.

Other ISPs, notably MSN, have also garnered an AOL-like persona to compete with the ISP king.

Because many of its new members are Web novices, CompuServe focuses in this release on making the service easier to use.

The CompuServe client's simple navigation toolbar adds forward and back buttons that appear clearly and boldly, Kington says. "Like with a browser, the back and forward buttons are used all the time. Users wanted them more prominent."

Several CompuServe enhancements echo those in the AOL client. For instance, CompuServe includes a media player and an Instant Messenger client compatible with AOL's AIM. CompuServe Instant Messenger users can apply AIM-style emoticons and graphics.

Broadening Access

Many of CompuServe 2000's enhancements center on e-mail, which Kington calls "still the most valuable application online."

New are search and sort features, plus a tool to help you immediately locate a downloaded attachment, he adds. CompuServe 2000 also now supports HTML e-mail and documents, already part of most major e-mail clients.

To make the service more useful to roving Web users, CompuServe 2000 now offers a Web-based address book and calendar. Current members who upgrade can move their address information from their PCs to the hosted service, Kington says. The Web-based e-mail also now automatically completes e-mail addresses.

AOL's influence is apparent in its new Shopping Assistant tool, which appears when members visit online retailers featured in the CompuServe mall. Through it, members can rate merchants and see ratings by other AOL and CompuServe members, Kington says.

Upcoming features include a price comparison service, as well as personalization options on the MyCompuServe start page.

With each update, CompuServe 2000 veers closer to AOL in appearance and services. But fans of the original CompuServe can still get the older service as CompuServe Classic. And although CompuSServe offers to upgrade its Classic customers, most don't make the switch, Kington says.

For more PC news, visit PC World Online. Story copyright PC World Communications.

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