YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections


AOL Gives a Boost to OS X

Technology: Latest version offers Mac users services previously offered only for Windows--plus nifty new Apple-only features.


First, a confession. I am a Mac convert, albeit a reluctant one.

After buying my iMac DVD Special Edition nearly three years ago--and loving it, at first--I discovered the limits of the Mac.

Many Web sites that offered movies, music or rich graphics didn't support my machine. A lot of productivity software lacked the bells and whistles of Windows counterparts.

I was consumed by buyer's remorse until Apple introduced its new operating system, version 10.1, last October. Software makers finally released new versions to take advantage of OS X's gorgeous interface and crash-resistant code.

I fell in love with my Mac all over again. So it should be no surprise that I am quite pleased with the new AOL software designed for Mac OS X.

The latest version updates the program's look and feel while catching up Mac users with services previously offered only to Windows users. It also includes several nifty Mac-only features.

I ran mine on my iMac with a 400-megahertz G3 processor running version 10.1--not the "Jaguar" update Apple just released. I connected to the Net using AOL and the iMac's internal 56-kilobit-per-second modem.

The program places all its functions on a sleek, metallic bar across the top of the screen that has the transparent drop-down menus common to OS X programs. This makes the toolbar, with its clunky, cartoonish icons, redundant. Yet the toolbar jarringly remains.

Luckily, it can be contracted--or detached and tucked out of the way, an option not yet available to Windows users.

The software includes a search tool that links users to AOL content and the Web using the Google search engine. It works well, although I wish it would give you AOL content as a separate option along with Web choices, like Yahoo's search engine.

Instead, type in something like Britney Spears, and up pops AOL's Music page devoted to the pop goddess. You have to open AOL's search function to find Web alternatives.

Here, the latest Windows version is superior because it places a Google search box right on the Welcome page.

A nice new feature is the AOL icon that is added to the Mac menu bar. I have mine configured so it's hidden until I move my cursor to the bottom of the screen.

The AOL icon automatically bounces into sight whenever I leave the program running in the background and receive an e-mail or instant message, and it tells me how many e-mails and messages are waiting.

Another Mac exclusive is the ability to attach files to e-mails by dragging and dropping them into the e-mail's attachment window. The program also allows you to embed photos and sound files within e-mail. Graphic-rich e-mails, previously a problem to view using AOL e-mail, now appear quickly, with fully functioning hyperlinks.

I also was impressed with the Netscape Gecko Web browser.

In the past, I used AOL to access the Internet, then bypassed the service altogether, surfing the Web with Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.1. With the Netscape browser, I experienced nothing but quick, reliable surfing on sites rich with graphics and Flash animation.

One side effect of staying on the AOL service was that I explored AOL channels I'd previously ignored. I suspect others who use AOL merely for the convenience of having a recognizable e-mail address or for instant messaging also will find themselves diving deeper into the service.

You now can have your Mac "speak" every line of text in a chat room or every line of an instant message. Though this was amusing at first, I found it grating after a few minutes. It can be turned off.

Like the latest version of its Windows software, AOL detects when the user is using a high-speed connection and offers special content featured in an additional panel on the Welcome screen.

Overall, it is a pleasure to use, as is everything else on my Mac these days.

Los Angeles Times Articles