- The Washington Times - Monday, August 25, 2003

It probably borders on the uncouth in some circles, but I’ll say it: I like AOL. I appreciate what they do, and the newest versions of their software for Windows and Macintosh are good, solid Internet “clients.”

Yes, the service could be a little less expensive, and I doubt users feel much joy when they see competing ads for Internet services at one-half or one-third of AOL’s monthly price. But for what you get — and even for what you don’t — AOL still represents, in my view, a good value.

The Internet remains a scary place for a lot of people. Just think of the recent spate of “worm” attacks and the havoc wreaked on many computer users who received and opened up virus-laden e-mail. The porn pop-ups and unsolicited commercial e-mail, also known as spam, is enough to make a casual Internet user, or a newcomer, recoil in horror.

The first things about AOL’s new software that I appreciate are the efforts made to block viruses, worms, spam and porn. These efforts may not be perfect, but I have spent enough time on AOL to know that it’s far better than it has ever been.

Let’s start with spam. AOL is doing a very good job of blocking it, in my experience. In both the Mac and Windows versions, the e-mail portion of the software features a “report spam” button. Highlight an e-mail (or several), click the button and not only is the e-mail gone, but the AOL system knows you don’t want that kind of stuff. I’ve gone from dozens of these messages per week down to about five or less. If only dieting worked as painlessly.

On the virus side, AOL’s servers now scan all e-mail to catch viruses, worms and other “Trojan horse” computer code. The scanning is free and blocked at least one copy of the “SoBig.F” virus sent my way.

Virus writers can always come up with something that can temporarily defeat virus screening. But the e-mail screening is a good thing. AOL also offers Windows users an online subscription to McAfee’s VirusScan service, at $2.95 per month.

AOL’s e-mail seems a bit better than before: Mail handling is faster, it seems, and users can now store up to 20 MBytes of e-mail on the firm’s servers for each of seven accounts, a whopping 140 MBytes total.

On the Windows side, it’s possible to customize your AOL Welcome screen to display news and information of particular interest, such as sports, family, or small business. Such a “do-it-yourself” choice is a departure from AOL’s many years of “take-it-or-leave-it” offerings, and is another nice way to ease into the Internet.

One other nice thing about the new Windows version of AOL — though it may annoy some — is the placement of a little toolbar on your computer “desktop” showing the number of new mails you have, if any friends are online for a chat, and so forth. This is another nice touch.

The newest AOL software for Mac or Windows users can be found on the service by typing in the keyword “Upgrade.” It’s worth investigating.

Cube marches on: Readers interested in the soap opera that is my Power Macintosh G4 Cube upgrade should note that I’ve finally conceded a battle — and found a solution.

I had thought that a simple partitioning would allow the Seagate Barracuda drive to function properly in the Cube, giving me much more hard disk space than the 20 GB once found there. The drive worked, but only for a while before sputtering and stalling. My solution was to get an external drive housing from CompUSA (the Rockville store had one for $80) and pop the drive in there. It works just fine now — really, and can speedily transfer files to (or from) any FireWire or USB equipped computer, Mac or PC. I lost some simplicity but gained some extra capabilities.

E-mail MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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