AOL Quietly Posts Version 8.0

America Online made the final version of AOL 8.0 public on Wednesday afternoon, six days before the official scheduled release of the software. The first people to hear that the software had been completed: AOL's beta testers.

In a dramatic e-mail with the subject "We have reached another Beta milestone!," AOL told its testers that the software had been declared GM, or "gold master." The message continued, "Your efforts and feedback have paid off immensely during our feature testing the last few months, and today we have refreshed Keyword: Upgrade! Be sure tell your friends and family to go to Keyword Upgrade to download the America Online 8.0 software."

It was not immediately clear why AOL decided to make the software public before its official launch date. America Online has planned a gala event at New York's Lincoln Center to mark the official launch on October 15. The launch will feature pop signer Alanis Morissette and AOL Time Warner chairman Steve Case.

AOL 8.0's full features were first reported by eWEEK on Tuesday. The software relies heavily on improvements to customization and parental controls to entice users into installing the free upgrade. Users of AOL 8.0 are now able to customize the "Welcome screen" that appears upon connecting, and a new AOL Companion feature provides notice of incoming e-mails and instant messages from a small desktop toolbar while AOL is minimized.

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