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AOL service restored

The online service is back up and running after a hardware problem knocked out email for several hours.

America Online (AOL) this morning is completely restored.

Members were unable to send or receive email from 11:30 a.m. PT yesterday until very early this morning. Most members were also locked out of the system from about 11:30 a.m. until about 3 p.m. yesterday.

But as of "early, early this morning," the system was completely back up and running, said AOL spokesman Rich D'Amato.

D'Amato attributed the partial outage to a hardware--and related software--problem, but would not get more specific except to say it had something to do with a server.

He said backlogged email that came into the system during the outage will be delivered to members, but he did not know how large the backlog was or how long it would take to deliver the mail.

In the past, email outages on AOL have caused long delays in email. And although AOL users are somewhat tolerant of system problems (even though they might complain loudly), when it comes to email, it's another story. These days, email is considered the "killer application" of the Internet, and Netizens are an impatient bunch when it comes to getting their mail delivered in a timely fashion.

AOL members several months ago had been experiencing routine delays in their email, ranging from a few hours to more than a day, although AOL officials had said there was no problem. But email has seemed to run fairly smoothly more recently.

D'Amato added that yesterday's problem was completely unrelated to AOL's current upgrading of its service, in which it is adding new interfaces for its channels. For instance, AOL's new chat interface debuted this week to mixed reviews from chatters. Some members complained about the pale yellow background on chat and the upgrades in general. For the most part, however, it didn't seem to stop them from their usual banter.

Members yesterday were complaining in chat rooms that they had a hard time logging on and were unable to get to their email. In one case it took a member two hours to get online and when he got there, he still couldn?t get email.

But at least some were taking the outage in stride:

"I'm having email withdrawal symptoms--LOL [laugh out loud]," wrote one user.

It also didn't stop them from speculating that the cause of the problem was related to upgrades and complaining about AOL's service. In the end, however, members still are using the system. Many members probably never even knew there was an outage, since most people do not log on hourly or even daily.

Because customers were able to check their email during the outage, it is unlikely that many users knew they were not receiving any new mail that day--just mail from previous days.

Only those who tried logging on from about 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. PT, those who tried retrieving or sending mail from about 1 to 5 p.m., and those who tried sending email from 5 p.m. until this morning would have been aware of the outage.

While ISPs also suffer occasional outages, more people tend to notice when AOL has one because AOL is the largest online service in the world, with 9 million members.

While AOL email problems have been known to impact the entire Internet, this partial outage probably will affect only AOL members. In fact, some point out that without a functioning email system on AOL, the Internet may actually have had less of a logjam yesterday than usual.

"Our downtime is less than 1 percent and that is as good, if not better, than anyone else in the industry," D'Amato said. When others have glitches or problems, however, it affects a much smaller portion of the Net.