AOL explorer has made some interesting progress and although some may scoff at the idea AOL Explorer seems to be a fairly capable browser. Built on top of the rendering infrastructure of Internet Explorer the AOL browser experience provides many features of a modern design and some features that go beyond the two popular browsers.
- Like Firefox and the upcoming IE7 AOL Explorer uses a tabbed browsing design allowing users to easily have multiple pages open at the same time.
- The design uses a plus sign to the left of the tabs allowing users to easily open multiple tabs without moving the mouse.
- Each tab has a close button allowing users to close tabs even if they are not brought to the front. This could cause problems since the tabs change widths as they are being closed.
- If you hover over a tab you get a thumbnail of what the tab will look like:
- The thumbnail is usefull in quickly identifying a tabs and web-pages. Thumbnails are used across the interface from bookmarks, tabs, history and other elements. This is a very visual and helpfull feature.
- The main navigation controls of the browser are fairly straightforward. The stop and refresh buttons have been combined making the interface look fairly clean.
- At the right of all the tabs is a button that enable the tab explorer:
The tab browser is a pretty slick design. The tabs are arranged in a circular design semi-translucent over the current tab. As you hover over each tab the tab gets a glowing appearance. The design doesn't work visually after too many tabs but for the typical user it will be very functional and attractive.
When you click a tab you get a view of the history for the tab. This was a little strange since I expected the click to instantly move to the selected tab.
Along the left hand side are verticle tabs. These tabs hold items like an RSS reader, channels and other secondary content such as history and related peripheral content.
The search interface is within the main toolbar. The text prompts you to enter a search making the field easy to use. The search engine is tied to the AOL search engine. This will be a drawback for adoption outside the direct AOL customer base but may be appropriate for their internal customers and revenue plan. Search results are shown within a normal browser window.
One nice advanced feature was a right click menu called power browsing that gives users quick access to advanced tools such as finding out who owns the website you're visiting or highlighting links that take you away from the current site. Many of these types of things are available on other browsers as extensions but it was nice to have them there as a pre-built feature hidden away from beginners but available to more advanced users.
In general the security features are less anoying in AOL Explorer. For example the pop-up blocker doesn't present an information tooltip. It just makes a sound. The security menu allows you to run a basic spyware scan. The browser doesn't have a phishing filter (from what I could tell). In general I fealt that this browser did a good job of showing you that security features are there without always warning you and showing you scary dialogs. In large part this is managing perceptions and I think AOL explorer does a fairly good job making user feel safe.
This is an area where AOL explorer isn't as strong. The look and feel of the browser is nice but it's a fixed look so if you don't like it you're out of luck. Users can customize pannels in the left hand bar but they can't customize the toolbar buttons, search engine provider or the home page. The browser does seem to inherit some IE plug-ins but not many.
- Interface 4/5 – I think overall it’s visually a very well designed browser. The crome, glowing effects and overall interface elements are well designed. Managing favorites is still a little tough but AOL explorer does provide a lot of enhancments that make the overall experience enjoyable.
- CSS Support – 3/5 – Since AOL Explorer uses IE as it's rendering engine don't expect anything amazing in this area. This browser will render pages like IE 6.
- RSS Reader – 3/5 – The Rss reader in AOL Explorer is better then IE7 and the Live bookmarks feature in firefox. It still leaves a lot to be desired but it does offer quick access to both feeds and the related headlines.
- Printing – 3.5/5 – This seems to be the same printing dialog as IE. If you're using IE7 you'll get the new dialog (4/5) if you're using an older version of IE you get the standard dialog (3/5).
- Security – 3/5 – AOL Explorer provides a number of security tools to make it easier to find the owner of a website, scan for common spyware and perform other basic security tasks. These features seem to work well without configuration.
Overall it's a very capable browser for AOL subscribers. The lack of customization and the hard link to AOL services may be a blocking issue for larger adoption. AOL's reliance on IE as a rendering engine may prevent web developers from taking interest. All that asside the browser does have a lot of polish and many unique features that will be very attractive to beginners, AOL's core audience.