With the recent release of AOL browser, version 5.0, America Online hopes to surpass the multimedia features in the latest version of Microsoft's Internet Explorer, taking up where Netscape Communications left off in the browser battle.
That means information technology folks looking to attract visitors to e-commerce sites are once again stuck in the middle, forced to use least-common-denominator technologies that both products support.
`Cascading style sheets, Flash, Java, Dynamic HTML - these are things a lot of sites are shying away from' without support from AOL, which claims a whopping 20 million users, said Glen Lipka, founding partner of New York Web design firm Kokopelli New Media LLC.
`We write things as generic as can be, even though AOL has 20 million people,' agreed Citibank's technology manager Scott Preble.
AOL 5.0 sports several new features that were designed, according to the company, to keep users on the service as long as possible - not flitting off to other Internet sites.
Some corporate Web developers don't consider AOL members an important audience. `Generally, AOL users are people who want to use chat rooms. They're not shoppers or people interested in products or services,' said Ed Boyd, owner of US Web design company Boydco. `I give AOL no thought whatsoever.'
AOL users don't have to use the new version to continue using the AOL service. The vendor estimated that 2 million copies have been downloaded so far from the http://www.aol.com Web site and online service. AOL said it will also distribute `millions' of CDs via postal mail and 5000 retail computer stores. There is no Macintosh version yet, though AOL promised one `in the coming months'.