Static AOL Making Radical Changes

Rhett Pardon
DULLES, Va. – America Online announced Wednesday that subscribers can check email using most third-party software.

The announcement was made one day before AOL CEO Jonathan F. Miller is scheduled to go before the board of parent company Time Warner Inc. with an optimistic message aimed at persuading directors that the unit can be rehabilitated. Its subscriber base fell to 32 million worldwide from 35.2 million last year and advertising has taken a nosedive.

Internet users accustomed to Outlook, Outlook Express and other programs don’t have to use AOL's proprietary software or use a remote interface to check their AOL mail.

It’s the first time AOL has supported the open Internet Message Access Protocol (IMAP).

Dulles, Va.-based AOL also said it has been making more of its once-exclusive content available through its website, and has shifted from its proprietary programming language, known as "Rainman," to hypertext markup language.

"AOL is the only major consumer online service to support the IMAP protocol and we are pleased to provide our members with another choice for accessing their AOL Mail with our new Open Mail Access feature," spokesman Roy Ben-Yoseph said.

At the board meeting on Thursday, Miller is expected to outline plans to broaden AOL's audience and boost its ad sales by making its content more easily accessible to subscribers on the web. He also is expected to announce that AOL is considering making some of its content available free on the Internet.

Miller will also roll out "Copeland," a new broadband interface that is comprised of two elements – a web browser and a flashy version of AOL Instant Messenger.

After several quarters of weak advertising sales and a shrinking subscriber count, Time Warner is considering whether to keep AOL, sell it, or combine it with a stronger company.

Microsoft Corp. of Redmond, Wash., and Yahoo Inc. of Sunnyvale, Calif., are the reported suitors.