AOL Opens Browser, PC Search Beta

Furthering efforts to attract fresh users to its services, America Online has opened beta testing for its standalone AOL Browser and Desktop Search to anyone with an AOL or AIM screen name.

Initially available only to internal testers, the AOL Browser beta utilizes Microsoft's Internet Explorer engine, but packs on additional features such as tabbed browsing and advanced pop-up blocking. The browser also integrates AOL's Desktop Search to scour local files, including Microsoft Office, PDF, HTML, and WordPerfect documents. BetaNews has learned that AOL plans to expand its search to index previously viewed Web pages and AIM chat logs saved as text.

AOL joins a growing list of companies investing in desktop search as a way to increase brand reach beyond the Web. Rivals Microsoft and Google have launched beta desktop search products, along with Yahoo and Ask Jeeves. For its own software, AOL partnered with third party desktop search developer Copernic.

AOL has shifted its focus to attracting consumers with free Web services in the face of increasing competition and a declining AOL subscriber base. As first reported by BetaNews, AOL beta tested its AMP media player as a standalone release in December, with sources citing plans for a public preview.

Both AMP and AOL Browser were components of AOL's Fanfare suite, an alternative client for broadband users that has since been disbanded. But despite reviving Netscape in November with the help of Mozilla Firefox, AOL has continued to make progress on its own IE-based Web browser.

AOL Browser takes many features from current browsers, but also includes some innovations of its own, such as "tear-off tabs." Tear-off tabs can be rearranged or pulled away from their original window and spun off into a new window. Additionally, AOL has added thumbnail preview images of Web pages that pop-up when the mouse cursor hovers over a tab, or the Back and Forward buttons.

Part of its "Power Browsing" feature, AOL includes added privacy options to remove any "footprints" left while browsing the Web, including cookies and cached files. Page zooming, high contrast viewing and enhanced information tools are also included in the Power Browsing menu.

AOL has not offered a final release timeframe for AOL Browser or Desktop Search. However, a company spokesperson told BetaNews last year, "This beta test is part of our continual efforts to test concepts and technologies."

AOL Browser with integrated Desktop Search is available for download via FileForum.

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