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[By Staci D. Kramer] The rush of new offerings from the new AOL — security, storage space, parental controls, mail, phone and more — has been almost dizzying in recent weeks. The latest launch comes today (it should be live now): AOL OpenRide, a broadband-oriented combination browser and online information manager that allows at-a-glance access to mail, IM, media center and browser. It also could be described as a multi-tasking desktop for online apps or as an ungated version of the AOL all-in-one experience. I first saw it last week in New York during a briefing with Joel Davidson, EVP-products and technology, and Roy Ben-Joseph.
Users of AOL 9.0 might seem like the natural target but it’s aimed at the mid-level consumer with broadband who already uses all these functions but doesn’t have an easy way to connect them. Sign-in isn’t required for what the OpenRide team calls “core experiences” but an AOL screenname enhances personalization. It’s XP reliant and will work with Vista; AOL execs said the choice has to do with usage and if that changes, additional platforms would be considered. (A tour is here.) The core components:
— a “Quad View” interface that shows four windows at once, adjusting them based on use. Click on email and that window expands, turning the browser tabs into miniature pages. Click on one of those, and that expands, reducing the screen space for other functions. Drag and drop works between the panes.
— The Dynasizer, which most users will think of as the circle in the middle, can be dragged to manually resize screens.
— Multiple email account access including automated help adding accounts from various ISPs and services.
— A Media Center that allows viewing of video online or from the user’s computer and access to AOL’s radio stations as well as audio from a personal library. AOL Video in the player has a matching preroll and banner ad. But viral video isn’t marked to match AOL Uncut since the goal is to draw from all video, not be AOL specific.
— Tabbed browsing with a rendering engine based on IE, which may appeal to IE users who don’t want to wait for IE 7 to leave beta.
— Free security features that can be turned off.
— Prominent placement of search. The new version of AOL Search due this fall will be included.
— XDrive access will be included in the next release.
Why not get even more personalized, say offering videos based on previous selection? Davidson explained: “My opinion on this is it’s better to look at groups of people’s preferences versus individual preferences.” Privacy is a concern; I got the sense that was the case even before the recent sensitivity-raising reaction to releasing identifiable data.
— They expect OpenRide to be used more at home, AOL.com at the office. They’ll spend the next 6-12 months unifying the experience across various AOL properties but, for the most part, it’s more about creating a user experience where AOL products and services can be used or showcased (carefully) instead of must be used.
First look: I haven’t been able to test all the facets but the install worked fairly well — a few pre-launch glitches — and so far the multitask elements are showing some signs of why AOL says it’s for people trying to keep sight of most of their online activity at once. The dynamic sizing and the instant resizing take some getting used to. The me-too/copycat chorus might seriously consider holding back this time and looking at OpenRide on its own merits. AOL is trying something different.