AOL Gives AIM an Extreme Makeover

America Online is giving its AIM instant messaging software a complete overhaul, including a major redesign of the user interface and a remodeled underlying code architecture.

The user interface is being altered to take into account that instant messaging now goes beyond simple PC-to-PC text exchanges and also includes video and audio communication, as well as connections with wireless devices.

Meanwhile, the code architecture is being transformed to integrate into the product some important software advancements that have become available in recent years.

A early beta version of this next-generation AIM, code-named Triton, is now available for free download at beta.aol.com.

"This [early] beta is the first of many steps we're taking to improve this application. Over the coming months going into the fall what you'll see is that every few weeks there will be an incremental improvement made to the product," says Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president and general manager of AIM and ICQ at Dulles, Virginia-based AOL. "By the end of the fall, it will be more than a beta, more of a full product that we feel comfortable upgrading people to and recommending as a next step for AIM."

Before Triton exits its beta, or test, phase, there will be one last upgrade to the current AIM 5.9 software, an initiative that isn't related to the Triton project.

Easier Organization

AOL is designing a light and clean Triton interface that makes it easier to organize multiple simultaneous AIM communications. AOL noticed that users often are communicating with nine or 10 people simultaneously, using text messaging with some, and voice chat and video chat with others, Palihapitiya says.

To that end, the Triton user interface features tabs to easily toggle among ongoing sessions with multiple people and among different communications options, such as text messaging, voice chat, file transfers, or online games.

"We really needed to find a way for people to organize [their AIM experience]. The Triton user interface helps you eliminate a lot of the clutter and lets you organize your communications a lot more effectively," Palihapitiya says.

Regarding the underlying architecture, AIM is getting rebuilt "from the ground up," baking into it the latest networking, code development and code compiler technologies, with the ultimate goal of extending the functionality of the application and making it easier to use, Palihapitiya says.

"It allows us to do a lot of configuration and quality of service and management on behalf of the user so that all they have to do is decide: Who do I want to reach and how do I want to communicate with them," he says.

New and Improved

Other specific new features in Triton include:

  • Multiparty voice chat, whereas the current AIM software only supports one-to-one voice chat;
  • an IM Catcher feature that intercepts messages from senders not on the user's contact list and lets the user preview the message and decide whether to accept it, ignore it, or report it to AOL as an unsolicited commercial instant message, or spim.

Downloading the Triton beta will not remove AIM 5.9 from users' machines, nor should users remove AIM 5.9 manually either, since the Triton beta lacks some key AIM features, such as live video instant messaging and file transfer, and, as is common with software in test phase, it has bugs; a list of these "known issues" can be found at the AOL Beta site. This current Triton beta only works on Windows XP PCs.

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