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AOL 7.0 leaked to the Web

Users get accidental sneak peek at next version of AOL, including changes to Welcome Screen and Buddy List features

Some Web surfers got a sneak peek at an internal alpha edition of Version 7.0 of America Online's client software Wednesday when it was made available for download from several Web sites devoted to AOL software and insider information.

AOL quickly blocked the software from signing on to the service, but not before a significant number of people were able to log in and take screen shots of the software.

What these users saw were changes to the ubiquitous "Welcome Screen" and Buddy List features. Other than those areas, most of the interface appeared to be identical to AOL 6.0.

One feature not in the alpha is the much-hyped Komodo browser module, which would allow AOL members to use third-party Internet browsers, such as one from Netscape, instead of Microsoft's Internet Explorer.

As with all alpha editions of software, there may be many more additional features and changes to the software before it is released to the public.

AOL 7.0, codenamed Taz, has been the source of rumours and speculation for several months. Internal AOL documents have indicated that Taz will be released in August barring any unforeseen technical issues. Taz is also expected to feature the Komodo browser engine by the time it reaches beta testing.

At the same time, AOL is working on several other initiatives, including a client codenamed Steppenwolf designed for use with Windows XP, the next version of Microsoft's client operating system due this fall. (Steppenwolf is currently in beta testing, available for AOL members at Keyword: Beta.)

AOL is reportedly in negotiations with Microsoft to have the Steppenwolf client bundled with Windows XP.

This isn't the first time alpha versions of AOL clients have escaped the company's control. In April, an alpha version of CompuServe 2000 with Netscape as the internal browser was discovered. Before AOL 6.0 was sent to beta testers, alpha versions of that software were available on the Web for a period of time before AOL sued the sites for copyright infringement.

AOL did not return several requests for comment by press time.

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