AOL Beta Tests IE Based Browser
As first reported by eWeek's Craig Newell, America Online is currently beta testing a dramatically modified Internet Explorer based Web browser it calls "AOL Browser."
AOL Browser is independent from the AOL client software and can be run as a standalone application. Although the browser is built on top of the Microsoft's IE core, many features that are found in AOL's Netscape have been included in the release.
Typically, Internet Explorer is not associated with "tabbed browsing," an option that permits users to view more than one Web page in the same window. Savvy surfers know that this feature is found in alternative Web browsers including AOL's own Netscape package. AOL has uprooted that convention by adding a feature called "tear-off tabs" to its IE-powered browser.
Tear-off tabs can be pulled away from their original window and spun off into a new window. Other features include a group privacy option dubbed "clear my footprints" that will allow users to empty their browser cache, eliminate cookies, block pop-up advertisements, and wipe their browsing history slate clean.
Additionally, AOL has borrowed a page from the Omni Group playbook: According to the AOL beta site, tabs and toolbar buttons will display preview images of Web pages when users pass the cursor over them.
AOL's decision to use Microsoft software under the hood has caught many industry watchers by surprise. AOL already funds development of Mozilla browser technology, which the company utilizes in its Netscape offerings. But Jupiter Research senior analyst Joe Wilcox notes that Microsoft's decision to slow IE development has left the door open for companies such as AOL to innovate.
"It would make sense that AOL would consider a lighter, browser client for some customers that offered new functions and better usability than Internet Explorer. AOL also could take more control over branding and services, which would be important for expanding customer relationships and company's product portfolio," said Wilcox.
When asked for comment, an AOL spokesperson told BetaNews, "This beta test is part of our continual efforts to test concepts and technologies."