AIM Update Adds Bundled AOL Browser

Before it migrates to the next generation of AOL Instant Messenger, AOL has said that it will issue a minor update to AIM 5.9. But BetaNews has learned that the software will be much more than a maintenance release, bundling a full installation of the AOL Browser along with AOL's SpyZapper anti-spyware tool.

The new AIM, currently in the beta phase of development, refines the AIM Today page with browsing and security enhancements, and updates the AIM Tools panel while removing all existing third party add-ons.

AIM Today -- a pop-up window that loads when AIM starts -- is the centerpiece of AOL's open audience strategy, offering AIM users access to news, entertainment and other exclusive rich media content from AOL. As part of these efforts, AOL is requiring the installation of AOL Explorer, formerly known as AOL Browser, in place of the previous AIM Today window.

Based on Internet Explorer, AOL Explorer does not automatically replace the user's default browser, but can be invoked independently through the Start Menu and adopted as the primary Web browsing application. Users are not given a choice to opt out of an installation while installing AIM.

AOL Explorer has many features in common with today's alternative browsers, but includes some homegrown innovations, such as "tear-off tabs." Tear-off tabs are browser tabs that can be rearranged and pulled away from their original window and spun off into a new window. In addition to tabbed browsing capabilities, AOL has added thumbnail preview images of Web pages that pop-up when the mouse cursor hovers over a tab or the Back and Forward buttons.

AOL's desktop search utility, licensed from Copernic, is integrated into the browser as well; however, it must be downloaded separately. Promoting AOL Search, the browser has shortcuts to AOL's recently re-launched search portal site.

AOL's SpyZapper anti-spyware security software is also turned on by default in the beta release. After AIM is invoked, two instances of AOLHostService.exe will run to load AOL Explorer and some other peripherals, increasing AIM's footprint on system resources.

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