AOL, Inc. (1991-2009) also known as AOL and America Online, a division of Verizon (acquired June 23, 2015 for $4.4 Billion), has released a new version of their AOL Software, called AOL Desktop Gold, referred to as AOL Gold hereafter in this article.
America Online/AOL (started out in 1991). Of course, I was curious and had to get the software to try them out and it was very sparse at that time. They had links to things to come but there was not much at all on this service when I first looked at it. This was during a time when everyone connected with modems, usually external modems at very slow speeds. Many reading this may never have gotten online through a service like America Online. But millions did.
Some history of online services I have used that were already out there before and/or during the time AOL came on the scene, and most before the true Internet was universally available;
Dow Jones News/Retrieval (beginning 1973, and throughout the 80s) – we connected via a handcrafted dialer my hubby Jim created for his CoCo. Jim connected since 1982 when he got his first computer, the CoCo. I started in 1986 when Jim introduced me to the home based computer world at that time when I was able to use his CoCo and later when he gave me a CoCo for Christmas which I shared with the kids. Before that, I did not have a computer, however a friend Barbara Murray introduced me to the Commodore computer that she, her hubby and their two boys had. But that was it. I never had a computer of my own until December 1986.
BBS (Bulletin Board Systems) around the area and across the USA were our biggest connection between the real Internet and us for email, downloading games, talking to others on open forums, or connecting to systems that provided special interests groups such as Great White North BBS where we got information on Satellites (C-Band satellite locations, programming etc.). Many of us stayed on local BBSes for the most part due to the outrageous cost of long distance at that time. Many DOS-based games were available on local BBS boards such as Apogee/3-D Realms games (Apogee and 3-D Realms were two different entities at that time; Commander Keene, Duke Nukem, Blake Stone, Wolfenstein, Quake, and more. Many other DOS based games some textual, some early ASCII color graphics. There were some boards that specialized in gaming whether it be downloads or places to talk about it. We also got started with Newsgroups as well through these BBS boards and later through other services.
GEnie (founded 1985) – I connected via external modem and an IBM compatible 8086. My Jim connected via external modem in IBM DOS on a IBM 8088. We also chatted live with others listening to a show called Friday Night Live/FNL with GaryB (Gary Bourgois) to quench our thirst for more information on what satellites to tune into on the C-Band Big Dishes at the time.
Delphi (since the mid 90s but started as a dialup service in 1983) – We connected the same way we did GEnie. Same reasons as GEnie.
Prodigy (founded in 1984 (by 1990 it was the second largest online service (second only to Compuserve at its peak. Innovative for the time making use of a graphical interface which actually slowed it down compared to others on low bandwidth modems). – We connected the same way as GEnie and Delphi. We tried this out because we were curious and stayed on for a bit.
Compuserve (first major commercial online service and dominated during the 80s through the mid 90s peaking in 1991) – We initially connected through Windows For Workgroups and later in Windows 95. Jim maintained an account with Compuserve for many years. We were on this for the same reasons as noted above.
I believe there were others, but these are the ones I have used in the 80s and 90s. These were all pay to play services including AOL/America Online which was $20/mo at that time, if I remember correctly.
Then there came a time in Windows 3.0 (before Windows 3.1 /Windows Windows for Workgroups which came with The Trumpet Winsock dialer to connect to the ‘real’ Internet if you had a local ISP or you could still use one of the other services that gave you access to the real Internet. There were others as well to make use of this Trumpet Winsock dialer such as Sprint. Later other ISPs such as AT&T, WorldCom and others came on very quickly from this point onward making use of the Windows Winsock for their dialer or creating their own Dialers,
In 1991 I tried out America Online in it’s infancy. As noted there was more of a skeleton of what it would be in time. Very little worked. I uninstalled and In Windows 95 I tried it out again. There was much more there but I had been on Widomaker Dialup service connecting to the real Internet via different protocols such as FTP, Gopher, IRC, WWW via a browser like Mosaic, early Netscape Navigator, and even early Internet Explorer, etc. None of these direct connections to places on the real Internet were even available in AOL at that time except some WWW things customized for AOL at that time. So AOL was again, but for different reasons, not all that impressive to me. I uninstalled the software again.
But I digress. I thought folks would enjoy a little of the history from my perspective. All of these services were definitely Pay-to-Play services, and Compuserve had additional paid boards or forums within their service for getting info and/or conversing with network engineers about things like Novell network operating system and other specific areas. One month I paid $6.99/HR to access the Novell board/forum. Ended up paying almost $300 for one month LOL. That was an expensive lesson!
Later you could pay a fee and connect directly to the Internet for less than most of them at that time once the Winsock was in Windows.
Let me note here that I was not familiar with Linux at that time, but they had the ability to be networked to the Internet before anyone else and before that UNIX. I came onboard with these late to the game because I did not know anyone using it until the later 90s (that of course was my Jim). However, I did install a networked system on Novell once in the early 90s. I learned a lot from that experience. It was awesome to see computers on the same network opening the same program and accessing the same data like that. Similar to the big boys at newspapers were doing already for their Classified sections. I did that too but that’s for another story.
Anyway, thankfully with the advent of faster modems and later broadband for most folks being able to directly connect to the real Internet became more and more ubiquitous. Most of these older online services have gone the way of the dodo or niche users. All but mostly Compuserve and AOL. They both evolved to be able to be connected via an existing Internet connection.
AOL became such a sheltered environment with so many offerings like News, Weather, Stocks, Mutual Funds, etc. via AOL‘s own partnerships with the services specializing in these areas, that folks who did not know about the real Internet really didn’t miss it. It was and still is a place to hold all your email, contacts, Favorites (bookmarks) and get to those specialized areas very quickly over the years. Many of the folks got so secure in their knowledge and use of AOL that they did not feel the need to move to the free AOL.com when they had the opportunity because they felt more comfortable using AOL‘s software which was updated periodically.
Others did move over to AOL.com and have not had to deal with the changes to AOL software over time. Some have used it since AOL first came out and until Facebook came along to provide a similar ecosystem, they never ventured far outside AOL‘s offerings. AOL did have a browser as well so they could get to things on the real Internet if they needed to. Many do that now, and all their Favorites (bookmarks) are all in AOL. It was a daunting thing when AOL.com offered email and all their contacts through mail.aol.com. They even offered to bring their Favorites for a time, but many did not do that. Instead they stayed with AOL software because it was familiar and the cost was less than when they started. Many folks later found out they could use the software for free (albeit ad supported).
Until the new AOL Gold software came out very recently, folks could use the AOL software’s ad supported/for free version or pay to have the ads removed (or change the settings to get some of the ads removed), and get free support as needed. Those that used the ad supported software or AOL.com for their mail and contacts could use it for free and still could get limited support from AOL unless they paid for more intense Support. Some were still paying as much as $14.99/mo, others if I remember correctly later were offered an $8.99/mo service plan. Now all that changed …
AOL Gold, an AOL a division of Verizon, are offering a 30-day free trial of AOL Gold after which time apparently one would need to pay a $3.99/mo fee to continue to use the new, more secure AOL Gold software under the new subscription.
Apparently AOL will stop support for previous versions of AOL according to sources listed below. Since they are not planning on supporting old versions once the 30-day free trial is over folks will either need to buy the $3.99/mo subscription, or move over to mail.aol.com to get their mail and have access to their contacts. Other services will need to be used at the various services Internet sites such as for stocks, mutual funds portfolios, weather, etc.
Those wishing to access a similar experience albeit not fully the same as AOL software can use AOL.com, and mail.aol.com for their mail and contacts via an Internet browser (such as Google Chrome, Internet Explorer or Edge (free in Microsoft Windows), Firefox, Opera, Safari (ubiquitous on MacOS and also available free in Windows), or use mobile based AOL.com mail offerings on their phones.
I would imagine, although no one has addressed this in an article as yet, that AOL will still continue their mail servers so folks can continue to use their Email clients on computers and laptops, or built in email clients in tablets and phones natively instead of requiring people to use the mobile.mail.aol.com
Here are some help links for help from AOL: