'Blue Hawaii' Becomes AOL 9.0 Beta

UPDATED Originally positioned as a small refresh update to AOL 8.0 Plus, the client software code-named Blue Hawaii and known internally as Bunker Hill has been designated a beta version of AOL 9.0.

Blue Hawaii features significant changes over its predecessor, most notably sporting a new interface technology code-named "Prescott Skins." Prescott enables users to select different themes, or skins, for the AOL client. AOL currently has three Prescott skins available; each called a "room."

Both MSN and AOL have been rushing to pack new features onto their clients in order to out shine the other service. AOL recently released AOL 8.0 Plus and Microsoft is currently beta testing MSN 8.5, a stopgap release on the road to 9.0.

AOL has remained vague about its plans for 9.0, only stating "throughout beta testing, versions and software undergo numerous name changes." But an e-mail to beta testers established Blue Hawaii's importance, confirming the software is "also known as AOL 9.0." The latest build of Blue Hawaii, numbered 4148.180, is installed to an "America Online 9.0" directory by default.

In addition to Prescott, the interface of Blue Hawaii has been polished with a new customizable toolbar. AOL members can select up to 15 favorite areas or Web sites to access via the toolbar.

"QuickViews" have been added to multiple areas of the Blue Hawaii client, allowing AOL members to quickly access additional information simply by hovering over an icon or buddy. For example, hovering over the Personal Finance toolbar icon brings up a QuickViews window containing stock quotes.

The AOL Mail client has been redesigned to function more like a standard e-mail application. Its expanded interface includes a preview pane and integrated filing cabinet, along with resizable mail columns. AOL plans to add new spam controls and support for sending HTML e-mail.

AOL's Embedded Media Player, code-named Dalai Llama, has been overhauled for Blue Hawaii. Real and QuickTime formats are now supported, with Nullsoft Video (NSV) support scheduled for future beta builds. Because it utilizes HTML and JavaScript, the embedded player can be accessed directly by any Web browser.

Although QuickTime is installed with Blue Hawaii by default, Real says AOL will continue to ship with RealPlayer, but not the company's newer RealOne client. "RealPlayer is shipped as part of AOL 9.0 beta," a Real spokesperson told BetaNews. "There is a smart installer that first checks to see if the consumer has a newer version of the player on their machine - if so it doesn't install our player because there is no need, if not it does install."

Blue Hawaii build 4148.180 includes QuickTime 6.3 Alpha 3, newer than both current Mac and Windows versions. The new release does not, however, support playback of Apple's AAC MPEG-4 audio format.

Instant messaging in Blue Hawaii functions more like AOL's standalone AIM client than AOL 8.0. The beta features voice chat, file transfer and the ability to send images to buddies. Support for "Multiple Personalities" has been added, enabling members to select different sets of icons, sounds and emoticons depending on their mood.

AOL 9.0 is likely to be completed by late summer in preparation for a public launch this coming fall. AOL has yet to comment on Blue Hawaii or offer any release timetable for the new client.

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