America Online started in 1985 as Quantum Computer Services, offering Q-Link, an online service with a graphical user interface for Commodores; it expanded to include Apples (AppleLink) and Macs in 1989, adding Tandy and other DOS PCs (PC-Link) in 1991.
As desktop computers with Windows 3.1 started becoming popular in 1993, AOL seemed to concentrate on PC users, often releasing Windows versions with version numbers higher than the Macintosh version.
It’s more just the version number – it’s the features. “Anywhere access” to favorites, calendar, and contacts is available only with version 6.0 and later on the PC (some of these features are included with 5.0 for OS X, but not all). Radio@AOL is also only available on AOL 7.0 for Windows.
AOL also makes it hard to go back. Once you’ve used AOL for Windows for a while, you can’t go back to the Macintosh version without reentering all of your new addresses and favorites from your PC to your Mac.
Just like AOL’s use of Internet Explorer helped IE become dominant in the browser world, AOL’s extended features that are available only on Windows are helping Windows stay dominant. Often AOL users won’t buy a Mac because it doesn’t offer the same features that they currently enjoy with AOL 6 or 7 for Windows.
Luckily for Apple, AOL is fixing this. With the release of AOL 5.0 for Mac OS X, AOL is at least demonstrating that they see the potential behind OS X – both in what it can do and what money it can help them make. AOL is currently working on another version, which is currently in beta and is freely downloadable to all members at keyword beta. This version, known as “AOL 10.2”, includes almost everything that AOL 6 and 7 for the PC includes.
For the first time ever, AOL’s interface seems to actually complement the Mac OS X Aqua interface – and it should, since this is the first “real” new version since AOL 5.0 came out.
Interestingly enough, AOL no longer uses Internet Explorer as the browser within the AOL application. Now it’s Mozilla – and it’s fast. Pages load faster inside of AOL then they ever used to, and they actually look nice – fonts are anti-aliased, and the graphics load almost instantly. Another interesting thing is the name change. Only in the about box does the new version of AOL actually say America Online; everywhere else it is labeled simply AOL.
While I’m not saying that AOL is the best Internet provider out there (far from it), I am saying that I am pretty impressed by their latest Macintosh version. It may bring back a few of those AOL users who switched to the PC version for its extra features.