AOL 9.0 SE's interface looks and feels just like that of AOL 9.0 Optimized. The familiar e-mail and messaging icons are at the top, your AOL Instant Messenger Buddy list lines the right side, and the start page consumes much of the middle of the screen. The only noticeable interface change is the Safety Toolbar, which has been enhanced to include the new virus scanner, firewall, and spam control settings.
In addition to adding McAfee VirusScan Online and McAfee Personal Firewall Express (these are custom versions of McAfee VirusScan 9.0 and McAfee Personal Firewall Plus), AOL also beefed up its spam control settings to let you set your spam filter to Low, Medium, or High, in addition to blocking specific e-mail addresses. AOL added a Report IM Spam button on all instant-messenger forms, letting you identify and eliminate instant messages from unknown senders.As its name indicates, most of the new features in AOL 9.0 Security Edition are designed to protect your privacy, your PC, and, by cutting down on spam and pop-up ads, your sanity.
On the corporate back end, AOL runs virus scans on all of the e-mail attachments that travel over its network. Now, all AOL users will have a personal virus scanner on their PC. The desktop apps include automatic updates, which are important, because even if you have a virus scanner installed, you may forget to keep its definitions updated. The McAfee virus scanner runs in the background, always scanning your PC for infections.
AOL also bundles a firewall, developed by McAfee, called McAfee Personal Firewall Express. The firewall offers port blocking, Trojan protection, and automatic updates. Like other personal firewalls, it will also make helpful recommendations about whether you should allow specific applications to connect to the Internet. The first time you access the Internet with an application, the firewall will ask if you want to do this.
With this new edition, AOL also offers a security measure more commonly used by large corporations. Using a keychain-size fob that generates a six-digit code that changes every 60 seconds, you enter this ever-changing six digits, in addition to your username and password, whenever you log on to AOL. The service itself will cost an additional $1.95 to $4.95 per month, depending on the number of accounts protected. The benefit here is that no one can use your account unless they physically possess the key fob, which is available from AOL for $9.95.
The company plans to offer online file storage in the near future. For an additional $2.95 a month, AOL File Backup will back up 100MB of your files at its data center. And an extra $9.95 a month will get you up to 1GB of online storage. Unfortunately, AOL File Backup wasn't ready at the time of our review.In an era of do-it-yourself software support, AOL scores big points with free online and telephone support. AOL offers live 24/7 phone support, live help via its online chat rooms, extensive FAQs with common problems, and e-mail support with turnaround within 24 hours. In addition to handling questions about its own client software, AOL's tech support can help you with questions about the bundled security apps, AOL Instant Messenger, and maintaining your Internet connection. The tech-support forums are always active and useful. We were able to connect with live a tech-support rep online, ask a question about our firewall configuration, and get an answer in less than 90 seconds--all on a Sunday afternoon.
AOL offers a free, automatic Computer Check-up service that can troubleshoot your Internet connection, fix common browser problems, and even make upgrade recommendations if your hardware is outdated. In this version, you can choose to run Computer Check-up when you are offline and not connected to the Internet.