Review: AOL Browser

AOL has always had the image of being the ISP for beginners to the Internet. Loads of content without leaving the AOL network, and pretty much anything a basic user would need, but not a lot more. The gripes about it from the more advanced users are:

  • It's too simple and lacking in features
  • It's cluttered with big buttons and controls
  • You have to have the main program open to stay connected to the Internet

But with this browser you don't have that.

Its stand alone and will work on any Windows 98SE PC and above. It requires practically nothing to run, and is a breeze to install.

You start by going to the beta site (external link) and downloading the file from there. It's only a 500kb download and when I saw that I though "Wow! That's small", but in true AOL fashion that was just the program to download the browser, but the file it downloads is about 3Mb so it's still fairly small. After it had finished download, it automatically ran the installer and did everything for me, without me touching anything at all.

From the way it installs itself, it's clearly aimed at the beginners to the web, but there are still some features you would expect on more advanced browsers: Tabbed browsing is the most obvious; a pop-up blocker that works; a side bar very much like the Opera one; and (The strangest feature) a desktop searching tool!

When you first load AOL you know what the brand is. The clean light blue and white interface shines through, and the AOL favorites symbol and print signs are all there. The browser is based on IE and therefore your home page, favorites and everything will be transferred over without anything having to be done. This is a big plus for the beginners as well.

Once you start to play around with the browser you see that it is IE, but with a nice coat on. The tabbed browsing works very well and any link that will open in a new window by default will be put into a new tab instead. To open a normal link in a tab you simply have to hold shift and click the link. The problem is that it automatically focuses on the newly made tab. This may not seem like a problem but you open a regular link in a new tab it's so you can keep it to read once you finished the page your on. Focusing on it just disrupts your flow.

Another nice feature, that I've not seen before, is if you hover your mouse over a tab it will come up with a mini screenshot of what that webpage looks like. It is also used in the favorites to make looking for the site you want even easier. It works really well and can help you if you don't know what's displayed in tab.

The thing that surprised me the most, was the desktop searching feature that is built into the browser. By simply clicking on the search tab on the left you get the option to search all your files. By default it only indexes the files in your My Documents folder; but you can add any folder you want. The search doesn't just go through your file name, it indexes the whole file contents so if you want to find a letter you wrote in Word that contained the words "When shall we meet" it will find that in seconds. The indexing takes a while, but the speed to find the results is amazing.

There is also a large selection of "Power Browsing" features available to use by simply right clicking anywhere on the page and going to the Power Browsing menu. There is a large selection of things in the menu, but the best are:

  • Highlight Links
  • List all the links on the pages
  • WhoIs domain Lookup
  • Show all links as URL and not text
  • Highlight links to other websites

Overall the browser works well, but for the more advanced use the only feature that will even make you think about using it is the desktop searching, but you could just use Google, MSN, and Yahoo! programs for that for that.