In a press release from AOL/Time Warner Inc. published yesterday, AOL is providing its proprietary software, email, and other services for free. Though the transition to a free service is still ongoing, potential new users to AOL can signup for free @AOL.com email right now. For users whom have cancelled AOL subscriptions in the last 2 years, AOL claims to have reserved your user name for you. Users looking to reclaim long abandoned usernames may have to wait until the transition is complete in September as, so far, there is no way to reactivate discarded accounts. Cancelled your account half a decade ago? Guess we’ll have to wait and see.
AOL for free? So what’s the catch? Well, there is a small catch. AOL’s service is only free to broadband users as they are essentially bringing their own access to the content. AOL will continue to offer dial-up access to paid subscribers, though AOL’s press release indicates that marketing of the dial-up service will be dramatically scaled back. Simply put, those trying to access AOL services via a broadband connection will soon have access for free.
On top of this, AOL will soon be offering additional free software in the form of security tools for Windows. A new video service is also slated to be rolled out. Additionally, AOL will be offering a personalized email service that allows users to have email@example.com style email addresses. This means that users will be able to own their own domain, but use the AOL’s webmail interface and AOL mail servers to host the accounts.
Why is AOL doing this? It’s an attempt to move away from the less profitable Internet Service Provider business model and move into online advertising. Users will have free access to AOL’s services and AOL, in turn, will sell advertising space on those services to cover costs and generate a profit. It’s a proven business model, if AOL can only survive the transition. But some say this is AOL’s attempt to break even on all of the bad karma they have brought with recent attempts to stem the mass exodus of users dumping their service. You decide.