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AOL gives a shout-out to Communicator

America Online releases its Communicator system, offering refinements for handling e-mail accounts and multiple screen names. But will broadband users get the message?

America Online officially announced availability of its Communicator system Tuesday, offering advanced users of its services greater ability to manage e-mail accounts and multiple screen names.

Distributed free of charge to registered users, Communicator is aimed at giving AOL customers a single interface for all their e-mail, instant messaging and address book applications. Although the company has historically maintained a simple user interface in the name of attracting Internet neophytes and building its market share, Communicator is one of the first tools released by AOL with its power users in mind.

"Many AOL members, especially those using the AOL for broadband service, have expressed great interest in using more advanced e-mail features," David Gang, executive vice president of AOL Products, said in a statement.

The company, which is facing a decline in the numbers of its subscribers, played up the software's appeal for broadband users looking for "always-on communications." Communicator offers integration with Radio@AOL for Broadband and My AOL Today, an interactive screensaver and news ticker designed to deliver personalized news and information.

Communicator also allows consolidation of e-mail from multiple AOL screen names and presents customers with an interface similar to that of Microsoft's popular Outlook e-mail. The tool stacks people's e-mail folders in a left-hand window column and allows viewing of messages using a window below the in-box. AOL is also promising refinements for handling e-mail attachments and buddy lists.

Additional features in Communicator include digital e-mail encryption, message forwarding from POP and IMAP servers, and spam filters to channel unwanted e-mail.

Registered AOL members can download Communicator for Windows now. A version for Mac OS X users will become available before the end of the year, according to a company representative.