AOL 'Tahiti' Dials Up Without Client

As previously reported by BetaNews, America Online is a beehive of activity these days, busy developing an upgrade to AOL 9.0 code-named "Tahiti."

BetaNews has learned that on top of the existing feature set, Tahiti will dramatically change the dial-up experience for users by removing the need to connect using AOL's embedded dialer.

Instead, a separate dialup application will connect narrowband subscribers to the Internet, without having to load the entire AOL client. Testers report that the feature works, but is extremely bug-ridden in its current state.

When asked for comment, AOL spokesperson Anne Bentley told BetaNews the dialer is as "simple as added convenience for dial-up members who can now establish and maintain a connection to the Internet via other browsers and other applications such as the AIM service, even if they are not signed onto the AOL service."

"AOL could be separating the dialer from the online client for a number of reasons," Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, told BetaNews. "One possibility: Easing the increasing stratification of broadband and dial-up services, as part of putting more emphasis on broadband."

AOL and rival MSN are each heavily pushing broadband services, recently moving to allow users to bring their own broadband access.

The release of AOL 9 Optimized constituted AOL's first noteworthy attempt to court high-speed subscribers through incentives ranging from on-demand exclusive programming to enhanced security provided by McAfee.

Tahiti has undergone three separate beta releases thus far, culminating in the most recent build, 4156.130. AOL has confirmed that features such as animated smileys, PDF file recognition, a print icon on titlebars, the ability to arrange icons on the toolbar carousel, and the ability to import Internet Explorer favorites are set to be packed into the client.

Upcoming Tahiti builds are slated to feature live video over instant messaging, as well as expanded SuperBuddy icons, and tabbed instant message windows.

Microsoft is also preparing a beta update to its next MSN Plus client, set to debut later this year.

Both AOL and Microsoft have gone tit-for-tat in efforts to push fast, feature laden upgrade cycles out the door in order to siphon off subscribers from each other.

Nate Mook contributed to this report.

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