AOL Reaches 'Tahiti' with Client Upgrade

After a long journey, America Online has landed at "Tahiti."  Code-name for an updated version of the AOL 9 Optimized client software, Tahiti is being distributed to customers through AOL's worldwide network of marketing channels.

With Tahiti, AOL continues with its strategy of releasing more frequent client updates to stave off subscriber exodus by adding premium features and improving the service's broadband experience.  In this release, AOL places a premium on security, personalization, and overall service enhancements.

In the past year alone the number of AOL narrowband subscribers fell off by 2.2 million.

With this in mind, AOL began work on Tahiti following the initial public release of AOL 9 Optimized, prepping a bevy of new features for the client despite its slighter status as an interim update. Chief among these updates are protections against common nuisances plaguing AOL members: spyware, adware and spam.

Tahiti features automatic protection against spyware and adware developed in-house, as well as adaptive spam filters. To complement these enhancements, AOL has included a pop-up blocker capable of disabling rich media including Macromedia Flash.

Security tools are monitored by AOL's new "Safety Status" feature which lets users know what protections are enabled and which are not.  To ensure easy access, the AOL client toolbar now hosts a Safety icon.

Although safety was on top of the Tahiti checklist, AOL has paid some attention to the mundane. Improvements cascade across the service ranging from e-mail, to instant messaging and personalization, to the AOL calendar.

AOL's e-mail storage options now allow users to organize mail saved on AOL servers into user-defined folders accessible from either the AOL client or AOL.com. Going hand in hand with e-mail, the AOL Address Book has been redesigned to offer better contact management capabilities.

As demonstrated in early betas of Tahiti, the Address Book stores contact information on AOL Address Cards. Address Cards are automatically updated and shared only when users modify their contact information. Information from non-AOL users must be imported from a standard v-card,

An AOL spokesperson told BetaNews, "Members can easily set up their own Address Card with the selected information they wish to share, then decide who they want to share the information with – both AOL members and other Internet users alike."

Contacts can be kept up to speed of the highs and lows of daily life with new AOL Calendar features. Separate screen names can publish separate calendars intended for users to discretely manage their schedules, or to share with buddies as a Web page. AOL "Planners" provide a broad range of templates for customers, touching on subjects such as dieting and financial planning.

Instant messaging is souped up with streaming video over AIM, tabbed message windows and expanded Super Buddy icons.  Buddy List filters enable users to organize the screen names that populate their Buddy List window.

Dwelling deeper into the realm of digital photography, Tahiti offers customizable e-mail postcards and Picture Album Layouts that label digital photos with personalized captions.

America Online's arch rival MSN made digital photography the centerpiece of its recent iterations of MSN Plus and Premium.  Using Microsoft's software, MSN subscribers can create and share photos over e-mail or MSN Messenger. MSN Premium bundles a tool dubbed Photo Story that adds narration and music to online slideshows.

Another area where AOL has mirrored the development of MSN is with its new toolbar for Internet Explorer. The AOL Toolbar assists users in organizing and finding information from search results by levering AOL editorial content and AOL's new "SmartBox" search technology.

Microsoft's MSN business unit recently launched its own browser toolbar.

Moving beyond simple cosmetic changes, external tests of the Tahiti beta introduced a stand-alone dialer enabling subscribers to access AOL without having to load the full client.

Other Tahiti extras are PDF file recognition; a print icon on titlebars; the ability to arrange icons on the toolbar carousel; the ability to import Internet Explorer favorites; and the AOL Journals blogging tool.

AOL Journals is a self-publishing tool that enables users to keep private journals which can be shared with a select group of people.  An alerts feature notifies users when their favorite journals have been updated, and authors when comments have been added to their entries.

Tahiti improves upon AOL Journal's text editor by allowing embedded HTML and increases the text limits on Journal entries and comments.

Despite the added weight, AOL does not want Tahiti to be the straw that broke the camel's back. As first reported by BetaNews, Tahiti is available to customers in a slimmed down "light" version of the client intended for users with older machines who would otherwise be left behind and unable to upgrade. Upon installation, Tahiti detects system specifications and optimizes itself for individual machines.

To encourage its clients to upgrade their machines, AOL has devised an online "Upgrade Advisor" tucked under the facade of its AOL Computer Check-Up service. The Upgrade Advisor itemizes computer specifications and informs users how to upgrade out-of-date components.

Lastly, AOL has paid equal attention to its broadband offerings. Users can tune into their buddies' favorite Radio@AOL station playlists and browse recommended Music programming through AOL Music QuickView. On top of its revamped Radio@AOL service, AOL has made it easier to search through its properties database for anything music related. 

The CD-ROM version of Tahiti will bundle Apple's iTunes installer, enabling members to instantly sign into the iTunes Music Store using their AOL screen name and password.  America Online and Apple partnered in December of 2003.

Tahiti is available now in Germany and will be distributed through other upgrade channels during the coming weeks.

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