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AOL. American Online.

Remember them? Remember when you’d get those annoying free trial disks in the mail every week? 2 Free hours! 5 Free hours! 10 Free hours! New! Version 7.0! It even became trendy to think of new and interesting ways to use or destroy those things.

For a while, in the early 90s, they were an up-and-coming ISP competing with the likes of Prodigy and CompuServe to bring the Internet to homes via the telephone jack.

Everyone unfortunate enough not to know how to disable their modem’s onboard speaker knows exactly what it sounded like dialing into AOL. The static, the buzzing, the hissing.  All while you stared intently at the three familiar tiles on the screen–a sort of progress bar that vaguely told you what was going on as you tried to sign in.

Suddenly, there would be silence. That’s when you knew you were either connected to AOL or were forsaken by the dial-up gods and got dropped.

For many people who knew nothing of the Internet and the WWW, AOL was the Internet. These people lived their online lives bound by the stark windows of AOL’s early interface, and then later by toolbars cluttered with useless buttons. They searched for content via “keywords” and conversed with other AOL users in chatrooms.

It was only after you made it outside of AOL that you realized the Web had a lot more to offer, and that AOL was way too slow to keep up with your newfound addiction to consume every piece of information you could lay your cursor on.

Ok, hold up, now…

You know, this was going to be something of a retrospective piece with some sarcasm and wry humor sprinkled here and there but I’m just a tad spiteful when it comes to AO-Hell (as many of us liked to call them, back in the day).

What is the reason for my angst? Netscape.

If you can recall, Netscape was acquired by AOL. AOL seemed invested in Netscape Communicator (the browser which would then just be called Netscape), but I, for one, realized that the acquisition spelled the beginning of the end for one of history’s most beloved web browsers. Sure, there might have been a few releases but the quality of the product consistently suffered either due to bad design or lacking features that made it trail behind other browsers.

What really drives me nuts, however, is that after Netscape was acquired, AOL went and renewed their license with Microsoft to continue to use IE as the built-in AOL browser. What is wrong with people? AOL had the best contender against IE–what happened, did they just forget about it? Actually, they didn’t. AOL fired the Netscape engineers and disbanded their resources.

So Netscape was ultimately discontinued and now it’s nothing more than a brand name that AOL is still all-too-happy to abuse for profits (see netscape.aol.com which I won’t even hyperlink because that’s how upset I am about it all).