Yow! Hundreds and hundreds of you posted or e-mailed replies to my AOL 5.0: The Upgrade Of Death? column. Even more of you shared the column with friends and co-workers -- until some critical mass was achieved and the column took on a life of its own: So far, news organizations ranging from CNN to the Associated Press to USA today to Newsbytes and more all have picked up on the story.
That, in turn, prompted others to look into AOL, and the closer we've all collectively looked, the worse it seems. Some of the newly reported problems include:
Frequent cut-offs/disconnects. Readers report that AOL 5.0 disconnects them at random every few minutes. "JBrown3659" reported he was bumped offline 12 times in 38 minutes while trying to send me an e-mail! Several readers suffering frequent-disconnects dug fairly deep into the problem and found they could connect to other sites or other ISPs without the same problem; so the frequent disconnects are almost surely an AOL-specific issue.
Uninstall woes. Once installed, AOL may not let you fully uninstall it; or it may not let you uninstall or repair other, non-AOL apps. For example, frequent contributor George Tullius reports that on his system "...after installing AOL 5.0 on a machine with I.E. 5.0 / 5.01... the Internet Explorer Repair Tool located in START/PROGRAMS/ACCESSORIES/SYSTEM TOOLS/SYSTEM INFORMATION/TOOLS was missing."
Site blocking. Some readers reported they were unable to access the excellent Shields Up online security-testing site because AOL listed the site as "potentially dangerous." Actually, it's a site designed to help you improve your online safety!
Billing problems. Others report ongoing billing problems. Fred Rosendahl writes, "Periodically... AOL would hit my credit card for monthly service that I had not applied for. After the 4th time within a 6-month period, I filed fraud charges with the Credit Card company. Had to file notarized complaint, with all details, dates, etc. Problem was resolved but I canceled the credit card to make sure. In October 99, my dad who lives 150 miles from where I live had his credit card hit for AOL charges. He does not even own a computer."
"Hijacking" of other ISP settings. Jim Koor's letter stands for many:
I was quick to download the "Beta" version of AOL5 when it appeared...and I loved the speed of its connecting to AOL, as well as it's new "Language on Demand" feature which allowed me to read texts in the original Chinese and Cyrillic. For almost exactly 6 months, I was in heaven! However, it appears there may have been an "expiration date" in the Beta version...without warning it ceased functioning! I downloaded the "Regular" AOL5 from a CD, and since then, have had nothing but problems as AOL "updated."
Most recently, I downloaded a fresh new copy of Internet Explorer, and loaded FreeInet (indicating that I wished to use it with IE rather than Netscape). Now, if I dial up FreeInet, the FIRST screen I see after the connection is made tells me I am on the Internet and asks if I would like to go to AOL. HUH? Apparently AOL has such control over my PC, that they can force their way into a competing company's program and attempt to lure the unsuspecting to AOL!
Lax security. Various news reports last week told of groups of teen hackers stealing "AOL Instant Messenger" names and subsequently masquerading as the legitimate account owners: MSNBC reported that some credit cards numbers and other personal data were stolen this way. "AOL is so easy to abuse it's pathetic," says one of the hackers. For a more detailed explanation check out Salon. This might seem like a small thing -- except when you consider that more than 40 million people use AOL Instant Messenger.
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