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AOL Offers Popular Services In One Desktop App

OpenRide is optimized for broadband and provides access to e-mail, instant messaging, Web browsing, online search, and a digital entertainment media center via one application, albeit in separate windows on one screen.
AOL launches free desktop software that combines its most popular services into one user interface, the latest move by the Internet service provider to lure former subscribers back to the fold.

OpenRide, which is optimized for broadband, but could also be used on dialup connections, provides access to email, instant messaging, Web browsing, online search and a digital entertainment media center in one application. The latter service lets users watch video, listen to music and view photos.

Each service is delivered in a separate window on a four-pane screen that lets people, for example, check email while watching a video, or send an IM while listening to music. AOL, a unit of Time Warner, plans to eventually allow users to add other Web services to the UI.

The email pane of OpenRide is not limited to AOL Web mail. People can also access accounts from other email providers, including Google, Yahoo and Microsoft. The media center provides access to video and music on the Web, as well as AOL's own services, and can play songs and show photos stored on a computer's hard drive.

AOL said its own field-testing of the product with hundreds of households showed a need for an application that enables more efficient multitasking by eliminating the need to jump between multiple windows.

OpenRide is the latest broadband-optimized software offered by AOL as the company transitions from an ISP dependent on a declining base of 10s of millions of dialup subscribers to a public Web portal that draws revenue from online advertising. AOL said in August that the services it offers in a proprietary Internet community for narrowband users would be made available at no charge to broadband subscribers.

AOL's customer base has been declining for several years, as people switch to broadband. The number of U.S. consumers with high-speed connections at home grew 30 percent to 102.5 million in May from 78.6 million a year ago, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. The number of narrowband users, meanwhile, fell by 31 percent to 40.3 million from 58.8 million.

Other AOL services released so far include security tools, online storage, Internet telephony services and personalized email domains. AOL plans to launch this fall a version of online search for high-speed users. The service will be powered by Google, which owns 5 percent of AOL and also has an ad-partnership with the company.