AOL Composes 'Fanfare' for Broadband

America Online has begun preliminary testing for a new product code-named "Fanfare," which will provide broadband subscribers with a next generation alternative to the classic AOL client software.

While Fanfare will initially emerge as an evolutionary improvement to AOL Communicator, the software is poised to become the vehicle that will deliver AOL's Open Client Platform initiative known as "Copland."

Fanfare is not AOL 10.0, and is separate from "Strauss" – a slimmed down version of AOL 9 Optimized.  Rather, AOL deems the client, "a next-generation, advanced and completely customizable Web-based experience for AOL for Broadband members."

BetaNews has learned that Beta 1 of Fanfare will not sport the promised interface design changes that AOL has surreptitiously crafted for future iterations of the software. Instead, AOL will deploy the underpinnings of Copland and integrate AOL Media Player (AMP), AOL Spyware Protection, and AOL Calendar into the Communicator code base.

By incorporating AMP, AOL is establishing a digital media platform that will play and manage media files. Exclusive TimeWarner video content from Video@AOL, Sessions@AOL, as well as music videos, movie trailers and news feeds available through AMP are a sampling of things to come.

As part of its $750 million USD settlement with Microsoft, AOL gained rights to Microsoft's digital rights management (DRM) technologies for broader content distribution.

Microsoft has recently devised a secure clock DRM technology dubbed "Janus" that enables songs to be distributed under a subscription model and transferred to portable devices.  AOL has hinted that its service features will be assessable even through "digital adapter devices," but America Online is under no obligation to utilize Janus in AMP.

When asked to clarify its position an AOL spokesperson told BetaNews, "The
overall goal of Fanfare is to provide a new type of service for our members across all facets of their online lives up to, and including, digital commerce. As such, we expect to offer best-in-class media discovery, playback, and management tools across all of the most popular media formats."

The Fanfare client's functionality is not restricted to digital media; the product that AOL has devised amounts to a hybrid media and communications platform. Communicator -- as its moniker suggests -- is a versatile communications tool featuring e-mail, an address book and instant messaging.

Fanfare shores up Communicator by introducing AOL Talk to enable live voice conversations among buddies. New e-mail views are intended to provide filtering across all mail accounts. System tray notifications for new e-mail messages and Personal Filing Cabinet (PFC) importation are also included.

Additionally, the Fanfare client will feature tabbed IM windows, integrated control over IM Expressions and a searchable address book for Buddy List contacts. Prior to Fanfare, it was necessary for users to switch to the AOL client software to personalize sounds and icons. 

"Fanfare appears to be very much about communications and digital content for broadband users. The timing is right. Jupiter Research projects that by the end of this year more than one third of U.S. households will have broadband," senior Jupiter analyst Joe Wilcox told BetaNews.

"While Microsoft rightly touts new security features coming in Windows XP Service Pack 2, weaknesses remain. Apparently, with Fanfare, AOL is looking to solve the most glaring oversight, by providing its customers spyware protecting software," said Wilcox.

Another one of Fanfare's core attributes is its openness. The Copland project is the embodiment of AOL's move away from proprietary designs towards a standards-based infrastructure. The first call of the march away from what some critics described as the company's "walled garden" approach to software development has already been sounded. 

AOL recently opened up its network e-mail access to third party IMAP compatible clients such as Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express and Eudora.

Commenting on the sea of change that has taken place in its product strategy, an AOL spokesperson told BetaNews, "Regardless of members' computing patterns or their means of online navigation, AOL's goal is make it as easy as possible for each person to quickly and effortlessly find the things they need and want. And that means creating multiple products and options, so that each person has the right AOL service, product and Internet experience for their needs throughout the day."

Fanfare is being prepped for a 2005 release. Initially, Beta 1 of the client will limit its support to Windows XP and Windows 2000; however, later builds will support Windows 98 and Me. Support for Mac OS X is still pending.

Testing will also remain closed for the time being, according to the company. AOL is reaching out to approximately 15,000 members who have evaluated beta copies of Communicator elements in the past, but is expected to issue a public preview by the end of 2004.

The Fanfare preview edition is expected to showcase revamped interface designs that will not be present in Beta 1, and will be more feature complete.

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