AOL 8.0 details are leaked ahead of launch

As America Online (AOL) prepares to release its latest feature-packed software, more details of AOL 8.0 are starting to emerge,...

As America Online (AOL) prepares to release its latest feature-packed software, more details of AOL 8.0 are starting to emerge, including information about a premium call-waiting service and six themed welcome screens.

AOL executives discussed details of the software at Internet World 2002 in New York last week. The offerings are part of an overall effort by AOL to shore up its business amid dwindling advertising revenues and falling subscriber rates.

The company hopes that AOL 8.0 will breathe new life into the service as it faces mounting competition from rivals such as Microsoft, which is also unleashing the 8.0 version of its MSN Internet service later this month.

The new call-waiting service, which will allow users to monitor incoming calls while they are online, is also a premium offering, allowing the company to tack on an extra $3.95 a month for the feature.

The themed welcome screens are part of a larger effort to make the service more personalised, according to AOL.

AOL head Jon Miller, recruited in August to revamp AOL Time Warner's (AOLTW) sagging Internet service, touted another personalised feature of 8.0 - the ability to find and engage other users for an instant chat on a specific interest.

By tailoring AOL 8.0 to users' individual needs, AOL hopes to slow its subscriber churn and mark a positive start under new leadership.

Besides a weak advertising market and crawling subscriber growth, the unit has not only been blamed for the precipitous drop in AOLTW's stock price but has come under dual government investigations for its accounting practices.

The latest blow appeared in a report published in the Wall Street Journal yesterday (7 October), which said that US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) investigators were looking into AOLTW's investment and advertising agreement with cable channel Oxygen Media.

According to the report, AOLTW Cable agreed to put Oxygen on its cable systems without a launch fee in return for buying $100m (£63.9m) worth of advertising on AOL. However, the media company allegedly managed to book the ad revenue for both AOL and its cable division.

While the Oxygen deal is just the latest AOL transaction to catch regulators' eyes, it also signals that the government is examining other units of AOLTW.

While the pressure is on, members of the Internet unit are keeping their hopes pinned on the new software.

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