Beta testers can now get a first look at America Online's latest project, AOL 7.0, at Keyword: Beta. The new client, codenamed Taz, was made available to AOL's registered beta testers on Friday.
While at first glance the software bears a striking resemblance to AOL 6.0, there are some changes in this early beta. Most of the new features appear to be minor, as AOL appears to want to retain the basic look and feel of AOL 6.0. (There is precedent for this -- AOL 6.0 was quite different from 5.0, whereas AOL 5.0 was barely distinguishable from the previous version.)
For the first time, AOL members are able to view "away" messages of people on their buddy list without having to send a message first. AOL Instant Messenger users have long been able to view away messages by choosing to view the user's profile. An idle indicator has also been added, displaying the familiar yellow notepad icon to the left of users' screen names that are idle, just as it does when they are set as "away".
Additionally, users can tell if other AOL members are online through an icon next to their screen name in emails. This feature, previously called "Mail Contacts", allows members to tell if the sender or recipients of an email they are reading are online for instant messaging or chat. With the "Mail Contacts" feature in AOL 6.0, a new group would appear on members' buddy lists with the buddies from an email automatically added and removed as emails were opened and closed.
Elsewhere on the instant messaging front, AOL 7.0 offers a feature similar to AutoComplete on Microsoft's Internet Explorer. As a screen name is typed in the "To:" field of an IM, a box pops up offering possible complete screen names based on the names in a member's AOL Address Book.
A new option has also been added to the bottom of instant message windows. Clicking "Add Another Buddy to this Conversation" opens up an invitation to create a Buddy Chat with several AOL or AIM users. This feature allows several members to communicate in a private chat room.
The "Welcome" screen has also been updated with minor cosmetic changes.
System requirements for AOL 7.0 are about the same as for AOL 6.0. On Windows 95 or 98, both clients require about 130MB of hard drive space, Pentium processors or better, and 16MB of RAM.
Still absent from the AOL 7.0 beta is the so-called Komodo browser interface, which has been tested in alpha versions of CompuServe 2000 7.0. Komodo allows the embedded browser in the AOL or CompuServe software to be AOL's own Netscape as opposed to Internet Explorer. Since AOL acquired Netscape in 1998, it has been widely speculated that Netscape would replace Internet Explorer as the internal browser in AOL software.
AOL 7.0 is expected to be released in August.
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