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AOL quietly relaunches flagship Web site

AOL.com's makeover, to be announced tomorrow, includes a Web-based version of its popular instant messaging software.

America Online has quietly relaunched its AOL.com home page, revealing a makeover that includes a Web-based version of its popular instant messaging software.

The revised site highlights You've got Time Warnerthree sections--"AOL Anytime, Anywhere," "Search" and "Shop"--that take up most of the page. With the changes, AOL.com more closely mirrors the leading ISP's proprietary service.

An AOL representative confirmed the relaunch but declined to give more details. An announcement is scheduled for tomorrow morning.

Yesterday, the Dulles, Va.-based company unveiled the largest merger in corporate history, a proposed $160 billion purchase of Time Warner.

The AOL Anywhere, Anytime section features a Web-based version of AOL's popular Instant Messenger (AIM) software called Quick Buddy. Previously, users could only access their AIM buddy lists by loading software stored on their PC hard drives. This version allows anyone with an AIM password to access his or her buddy lists directly off the Web site.

"AIM Quick Buddy lets you send instant messages directly from a Web browser, such as Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, to anyone who has registered for AIM or who uses the America Online service," the site reads.

Other features that do not require the user to download software include a free email service, the Web-based scheduler My Calendar, and the My AOL.com content personalization page.

Contrary to portal convention, the site puts search in a secondary position and diminishes the presence of so-called content channels. In addition, it gives more space to the company's Shop@AOL e-commerce service, which resides below the search section.

The relaunch marks AOL's latest effort to retain its existing members and lure potential new members to its branded services. Although AOL's Web sites--which include Netscape's Netcenter, ICQ.com and Digital City--collectively constitute the largest Web audience, portal heavyweight Yahoo follows close behind, according to Media Metrix. AOL executives in the past have said they want to curb their users from leaving their services to perform popular tasks such as search or free email.

AOL.com's relaunch makes it the latest AOL Web property to undergo an appearance change. Its Netcenter portal also recently underwent a redesign.