AOL Unleashes Final Communicator

America Online has publicly released the final version of AOL Communicator, its new unified client featuring e-mail, an address book, and real time communications.

Formerly known by the code-name "Photon" during its testing phase, the product has sustained development for the past two and a half years following the lackluster debut of Netscape 6.0 in November 2000.

David Gang, Executive Vice President of AOL Products explained the rationale behind the release in a brief statement.

"Many AOL members, especially those using the AOL for Broadband service, have expressed great interest in using more advanced e-mail features and we're thrilled to now provide them with this robust, full-featured communications application."

Like the AOL 9.0 client, more advanced e-mail functions are adopted in the aptly named Communicator. AOL customers can manage multiple mailboxes from their AOL screen names, while standard POP and IMAP accounts are also supported.

While finally just reaching the echelon of most standalone e-mail clients, AOL mail can be managed through flexible sorts that include filters and folders. Individual messages can be viewed through a three-pane preview window, precluding the need to open each message in its own window.

A separate folder is reserved for spam which will bear the scarlet letter of a separate color coding. Mail that slips through can be marked as spam to improve future accuracy.

File attachments can be dragged and dropped directly into message dialogs; correspondingly, received attachments can be clicked on and saved through attachment links.

Contact information stored within the address book can be sorted by a personalized "friendly name" that differs from a given e-mail address, enabling customers to create nicknames for one another.

Communicator's enhanced address book is also synchronized with the standard AOL member address book to provide accessibility whenever the AOL service is in use.

The "friendly names" theme continues through the scope of the product, finding its way into AOL Instant Messenger. Like popular third parties enhancements such as Dead AIM, buddy lists can be customized according to nicknames, e-mail addresses, and AOL screen names.

Communicator's integration is apparent when an alert is displayed next to a buddy's name to indicate receipt of an e-mail message.

Browsing functionality draws upon AIM's AOL Today pop-up, pushing news and an interactive screensaver to the desktop that matches the user's interest. Broadband users will also find Communicator integrates Radio@AOL into the product mix.

Although Communicator compliments AOL 9 and AOL for Broadband, its underpinnings are drawn from another source – the Gecko browsing engine and XUL user interface language found in Mozilla.

Despite this close relation with open source, AOL told BetaNews that Communicator was developed entirely in-house and its code base will remain off limits. It was also developed to meet AOL's hallmark mantra of "ease of use."

AOL Communicator is a free download available to members immediately under keyword: AOL Communicator. A Mac OS X alternative is gearing up to be released in the fall.

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