For a while now, AOL has been working steadily on their updated Mac client, AOL Desktop for Mac, to bring parity with their Windows counterpart. The software was released on May 6th, 2008 on the [email protected] Blog, including video and screenshots depicting the software in action.
Lately, you’ve probably have seen my less than favorable entries about AOL, well this one won’t be nearly as critical, in fact supporting in context. (Really, all of my criticism of AOL is supporting in context, but that’s besides the point…)
I’ve used AOL Desktop for Mac when it was in beta for a while now, and I must say the installation has dramatically improved over it’s predecessor. However, something is missing… the classic AOL experience, I’ll get into that in a moment. The client launches much quicker, smoothly and will be a decent upgrade for the AOL for OSX line of clients.
Windows users by contrast, received a somewhat-working version of AOL 9.1 (many today still report of unresolved bugs for several months); well it appears that the features that the Mac AOL team has worked on, did a very thorough job in Quality Assurance (QA). That is, I haven’t experienced a single crash, freeze or undesirable experience when using it. This is what we call, “Mac Quality.” I mean seriously, Windows doesn’t have the BSOD for an unexplained reason.
The visuals are very nice, but I must say that instead of maintaining their branding themselves; AOL has abandoned their classic “blue” identity in favor of graphite panels and smooth gradients that the Mac software uses. As a classic AOL Mac user, I find the e-mail interface somewhat confusing — just as confusing as the Mac Mail clients — but I digress. The IM client is OK, but didn’t adopt the superior iChat-esque feel with bubbles. The classic Welcome screen is long-gone and is a relic that remains for legacy versions of AOL software.
AOL for OSX has lost its identity. It doesn’t look or feel like AOL anymore. 🙁
That isn’t necessarily a negative observation, but it’s one they should have considered. Many users who may upgrade to this, will likely defect on over to “real” Internet software like Mac Mail, iChat and Firefox (or Camino).
A lot of hardcore Mac AOL users will likely agree with this observation. AOL software used to be simple and easy, which is rather cliche`.
The good in their release, it shows the company at least wishes to not abandon their Mac users. It’s been many years since Mac users had any decent working software from the company. (I remember taking support calls from Mac AOL users and pretty much since the x86 Mac, it’s been a steep downhill for that segment of users.)
For many AOL users, I imagine that a classic experience is preferrable to the current Web experience. Personally, I feel it should remain an option. Many avid early-adopters have grown addicted to their FDO Welcome Screen, FDO Chat and FDO Message Board experiences. Mind you, FDO was originally developed for Mac clients when AOL was much smaller in 1988. FDO in and of itself was a fast, compressed and inherently secure* protocol for sending “forms” for the AOL software to render. FDO has rendered nearly all the AOL content until about 2002, opting to break down the walled-garden approach and open up to the Web.
* Secure, as in the stream is not easily sniffable as it tunneled through the AOL adapter and forms could be compressed prior to transmission. Of couse, it didn’t prevent screen name exploits previously.
The Mac AOL software should support visual skins (heck, it can be monetized, even), support WeeMees (2D-animated online personalities), in addition to allowing someone to choose to use the AOL proxy or their own local connection. It should also support classic AOL experiences like FDO Chat (which is still alive, to my reckoning). It should also employ a PFC/Favorites Migration assistant to let users easily migrate favorites from the old software to the new software (along into Safari) and support uploading stored e-mails onto AOL’s ‘Saved on AOL’ IMAP folder.
So here’s the bottom line (literally):
AOL Desktop for Mac is a great upgrade for existing Mac AOL users, or if someone is struggling with Safari, iChat or Mac Mail; but power-users need not apply since the software will still insult your computing expertise.
[Via Ars Technica]