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AOL flips open e-mail Communicator

America Online releases a preview of its AOL Communicator e-mail client, an upgrade designed to appeal to tech-savvy members.

America Online is giving subscribers an early taste of its AOL Communicator e-mail client, an upgrade designed to appeal to its more tech-savvy members.

The AOL Time Warner unit said Friday it has released a preview of the e-mail software, which comes bundled with instant messaging and address book features. As previously reported, AOL Communicator is the company's attempt to offer advanced users a different option for managing their e-mail.

Over the years, AOL has only incrementally changed the e-mail client on its flagship service and has maintained a simple interface targeted toward Internet newbies. However, suffering from declining subscriber growth, the company has made a push to develop products to prevent users from defecting.

"We think this will appeal to our more technically-savvy members, including college students (and) small-business folks as well as other heavy users of mail," said an AOL representative.

The software's interface and functionality mirrors that of Microsoft's Outlook e-mail client, where a user's mail folders are organized in a left-hand column and individual messages can be viewed in a window below the in-box.

Other features include digital encryption of e-mails, the forwarding of messages from POP and IMAP (Internet message access protocol) servers, and a spam filter that directs suspected junk e-mail into a separate folder.

The AOL representative declined to comment on whether the company would try selling AOL Communicator to enterprises or offer the software in subscription form to nonmembers.

The product is currently available for download on the AOL flagship service and is available only to subscribers. AOL has not set an official release date for AOL Communicator, but it is expected to launch this year.