AOL Upgrading – Better for You or AOL?

AOL Hammers Users with Constant Upgrades 

Ever since the inception of America on Line (AOL) in the 1980’s, people have enjoyed being online for e-mail and the internet. As one of the first companies to promote families having their own e-mail accounts, AOL got a foothold in the Macintosh market and then swept its way into the tentacles of the Home PC market, implanting itself as resident Guru of cyber communication. AOL had found plenty of customers to sign up for its internet access.

Since those early days when the AOL phone lines were not clogged with after-school users playing internet games, and working families could actually log on through their modems to read their email after dinner, the AOL staff discovered a vast untapped marketplace of customers waiting to have their wallets plucked. AOL discovered the sale was not over just because a monthly subscription to their online service had been sold. 

AOL’s Golden Goose

AOL discovered there was more to this golden goose than one golden egg laid for a subscription.  AOL Upgrades Many VersionsAOL Upgrades Many VersionsAOL Upgrades Many Versions  AOL spotted a plump goose that could lay many profitable golden eggs. AOL set upon the task of targeting computer users with advertisements on TV, in the mail and magazines, urging more users to sign up for their worldwide internet service. But AOL wanted more, so they began a more forceful campaign of mailing their upgrade disks to home computer users and promising them an AOL Better Life After Upgrading, which Skeptical World named the “AOL-BLAU.”  


Then there were the retail outlets, with boxes of free AOL upgrade disks that populated the checkout counters, urging customers to take them home and install the latest and greatest version of AOL on their computers. Customers wanted whatever was newer and better, and AOL users wanted a Better Life After Upgrading (AOL-BLAU).

But what was in the upgrade for customers? Why was AOL so insistent their customers continuously upgrade each time a new version was released? Skeptical World was curious and wanted to know was AOL Life really Better After Upgrading?

Versions 1, 2, and 3

So we went back to when AOL first began life as a floppy disk. Versions 1, 2, and 3 were small programs enabling users to read and send email and later browse the internet. Multimedia, internet gaming, and spam had not been invented.

Version 4

Version 4 was the first big AOL version released on a CD and enabled users to have 5 e-mail accounts. It was later followed by versions 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, with hundreds of incremental versions inbetween. Each subsequent version promised the computer user a Better AOL Life After Upgrading.

Under Version 4, AOL users began seeing their first popup ads or pop open windows with advertisements. Using special software, Skeptical World blocked certain ports and discovered some popup ads for non-AOL products, were actually coming directly from AOL whenever we logged onto the internet. A little publicized value of version 4 was that it allowed AOL connections through home or office networking.

Version 5

Under Version 5, AOL users were treated to, “You’ve Got Pictures, Instant Messenger, 7 E-mail Addresses, Internet Explorer, and a Custom Welcome Screen.” Networking AOL was quietly removed from versions 5, 6, 7, and 8, leaving hapless AOL users seeking help on numerous worldwide bulletin boards for ways of restoring their networking connections that stopped working after they did an AOL-BLAU.

Version 6

Version 6 promised a “fast internet and improved e-mail.” Still waters run deep, because a lot changed with this version even though it looked like not much happened from the previous verision according to the AOL label. But version 6 unlocked the hidden ports on the computers, subjecting customers to countless spam ads flashing onscreen in popup windows called “Messenger Service” ads.  AOL users were not provided with any software to turn off the obnoxious ads, because hey, this was AOL revenue from advertisers.

Version 7

Version 7 promised AOL users the previous version goodies along with an enhanced “Custom Welcome Screen.” The Custom Welcome Screen should have been more aptly called the “Custom Advertising Screen” since the subscriber’s onscreen choices of topics to appear with every opening would guide AOL as to what type of advertising to put in front of the customer’s face during sign-on. The much abhored “Messenger Service” ads continued at a pace so steady the AOL user could use it to check his pulse. 

Version 8

Version 8 promised AOL users controls for blocking unwanted spam, not ads, that were the result of sincere customers wanting an AOL-BLAU. Meanwhile, the pornographic popup ads were rampant, flashing their obscene messages at the rate of one every 3 seconds. Most users quickly discovered that closing one window only spawned another window on top of the user’s e-mail for another nasty ad from Ad Hell.

Version 9

Version 9 promised AOL users an opportunity to “enjoy on-demand programming with 175 CD-quality radio stations, instant news updates, and exclusive performances, concerts and interviews.”   This version also promised to “lock out intruders and get high-speed broadband access.” Note the intruders AOL eludes to, were not the unwanted advertisers (which AOL wanted), but rather, scare tactics about enemies lurking in the dark to hijack individual home computers. Networking the AOL connection through one computer was restored with this version, not out of a sense of duty, but because of the increased opportunities to swamp more unsuspecting AOL users at multiple computers along a network path, with unlimited ads from Ad Hell in order to make more money.  

Who benefits from the onslaught of AOL upgrades? The answer is simple – it is AOL, not the customer. Each AOL upgrade has been customized to target the customer’s wallet with more and more advertising for the purpose of getting that golden goose to lay more solid gold eggs of advertising revenue.

What should you do?

If you have AOL and want to keep it, but you want to get rid of the “Messenger Service” ads from Ad Hell, then you need to do a retrofit back to version 4 or 5. With Version 4, you can still use broadband and your home or office networking connection, and you will not receive any of the unwanted “Messenger Service” ads and will have 5 e-mail accounts. With Version 5, you lose the home or office networking connectivity to the internet but can have 7 e-mail accounts.

Update: Since this article was first uploaded 5/6/2004, AOL has undergone more changes and began offering a free version of its e-mail in 2006. If you do not like being bombarded with all that AOL advertising, then consider retrofitting your computer to an older version of AOL. I retrofitted my computer back to version 5 and I only see my mail or friends online in the IM window. I also have the advantage of devoting the entire AOL window to read my mail, instead of the narrow space provided by AOL in the newer versions.

Skeptically yours,