AOL: 'Tahiti' to Ship Early Next Year

America Online confirmed to BetaNews that it plans to launch the next version of its client software, code-named Tahiti, early next year.

Testers are reporting marked progress in the Tahiti beta test, which is currently ongoing.

According to sources, Tahiti will spin off a slimmed down "light" version of the software intended for users with older machines. AOL has also developed an anti-spyware application designed to keep members' systems clean.

AOL continues its strategy of staving off subscriber exodus by improving the quality of its client software, while enriching the broadband experience with exclusive Time Warner content.

Following the public release of AOL 9 Optimized, a beta of Tahiti debuted with an assortment of new features including: 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.

Moving past cosmetic changes, last external build of Tahiti introduced a stand-alone dialer, while work on other enhancements such as streaming video over AIM, tabbed message windows and expanded Super Buddy icons remained a work in progress.

Despite initially being labeled "bug ridden" by testers, the dialer is said to have progressed nicely throughout subsequent builds towards being a stable and deliverable feature.

Spyware protection, as well as adaptive spam filters have been available in AOL 9.0 Optimized since July rang in the company's "Member's First" download campaign. With Tahiti, AOL has worked to port the innovations of AOL Optimized to the rest of its members without the benefit of a broadband Internet connection.

Upon the installation of Tahiti, a link to AOL Spyware Protection is also automatically installed on the member's desktop, and is continually updated to guard against the latest spyware applications. AOL says it developed its spyware removal technology in-house, and did not utilize popular applications such as Ad-aware or Spybot Search and Destroy.

"It makes sense that AOL would want to extend spyware detection to as many customers as possible. Dial-up customers already deal with limited bandwidth, something that spyware could further constrain," Joe Wilcox, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, told BetaNews.

America Online spokesperson Anne Bentley told BetaNews that even the low-RAM version of Tahiti is set to include protection from Spyware and spam, because safety and security are "#1 priorities" for their members.

It was based upon these concerns that AOL took it upon itself to disable the Messenger service on its clients' Windows operating system.

The Messenger service triggered a flood of complaints by customers inundated with annoying pop-up messages, which additionally posed security concerns. Microsoft has since announced that it will disable the feature in Windows XP Service Pack 2, due out next year.

By offering a low-RAM version of Tahiti, AOL is essentially turning off some of its client software's less desirable attributes. Of its millions of users, many have not upgraded their computers in years.

"It's a fairly reasonable conclusion that many dial-up customers use older computers that have less processing power and memory. AOL is smart to offer these customers a low-RAM version that better fits their aging computers without short changing customers' overall online experience," said Jupiter's Wilcox.

Despite the souped up client, users left behind on narrowband will be unable to access premium on-demand news, sports, entertainment and music available to AOL Optimized subscribers.

AOL rival MSN is busy readying two new releases of its software: MSN Plus and MSN Premium. MSN Premium is said to be a value-added version of the cost conscious Plus.

Both editions offer security services similar to those touted by AOL, and offer exclusive broadband video content. Microsoft is attempting to distinguish itself by focusing solely on the broadband experience and has begun laying the groundwork for a premium video feed, as well as an MSN music store.

Microsoft Partner MSNBC is beta testing the video feed throughout its Web site, requiring visitors to possess a Passport account to view video news reports.

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