AOL to Introduce 2GB Web Mail with AIM

Thursday, America Online will introduce a beta version of AOL Instant Messenger Mail, a free Web mail service for all AIM users. The service will be integrated into the second beta of a maintenance release of AIM 5.9 that will be the last of its pedigree before AOL migrates to its next generation "Triton" client software.

Like rival Google's Gmail, AIM Mail provides 2GB of storage space accompanied by new search tools to more easily locate messages.

The AIM Mail service is tightly integrated with AIM and uses Screen Names as the prefix for members' e-mail addresses. Moreover, Screen Names are used as a single sign-on for both services. Users can access AIM Mail by invoking it trough their AIM Buddy List or through the Mail panel located within the AIM Today welcome screen.

In addition to its own points of exposure, AOL is permitting open e-mail access from third party clients by enabling IMAP support. But, it could be said that as one door opens another slams shut; AOL has forced the installation of the Internet Explorer based AOL Explorer Web browser as the only accepted method to access the AIM Today Window.

AOL is exposing more than just e-mail access. AIM presence awareness is built into the new service, appearing within the interface at several different prominently placed spots. AOL's trademark Running Man is displayed throughout AIM Mail, signaling when of friends, family and coworkers are online.

Users can keep track of their contacts using an address book that AOL provides, also with presence. To accommodate the anticipated surge in contacts, AOL will also be raising the Buddy List's capacity to 250 for the beta with a ceiling of 400 expected by launch.

Rival Hotmail has already made real-time communications an aspect of its service.

AIM Mail features usability enhancements, first seen in a March beta of AOL Mail on the Web, which are derived from technology acquired from Mailblocks in 2004. These include: rich text for styled e-mail composition; natural drag and drop capabilities between folders; automatic inbox refreshing and real-time audible new mail notifications. Convenience features like auto-addressing and spell checking are also included.

For its members' protection, AOL provides server side antivirus using a solution licensed from McAfee definitions and spam detection elements. Using its proprietary system, AOL claims to have achieved a 75 percent reduction in spam for its paying members in 2004. AIM Mail uses the same backend.

Users can set an automatic away message that sends a return message when they are unable to access e-mail, as well as un-send unread e-mail sent to other AOL and AIM Mail members. The un-send feature has been available in the AOL client software since version 5.0.

AIM Mail is the latest advancement in AOL's initiative to transform AIM into a "complete communications experience," AIM & ICQ Vice President & General Manager Chamath Palihapitiya told BetaNews. AOL is preparing to introduce more advanced communications options, such as voice over IP, with its upcoming Triton client.

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