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AOL 9.0 “Optimized?

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I’d like to comment for a moment about our latest poll results at SurfSafely.com. The question is “Which group do feel most likely to be victimized by crime online?” I’m not too surprised at the results. Most (45%) felt children are most likely, 35% said both equally and only 20% felt adults are most likely. It is true that the most sensational crimes are perpetrate against children. That’s why they get the most attention from the media and that’s why most people felt children were most likely. Once again, public opinion being swayed by media hype. The reality is most online crimes involve auction fraud or monetary transactions using credit cards. Who is managing those auction accounts and using those credit cards? Most often it’s the adults. The reality is, 99% of all crimes committed online target adults because they seem to be the most gullible. Take a look at the FBI’s own statistics. http://www.ifccfbi.gov/strategy/statistics.asp   For the 2002 report, the Executive summary on page 3 clearly states that spam and child pornography are included in the report but look at the chart on page 6 and tell me where crimes against children fall?  It’s quite revealing.

I’m intrigued by what appears to be the newest form of online identity theft.  I’m a homeowner.  I too am looking to refinance.  I too get dozens of spam each day with incredible offers and unbelievable interest rates.  Just for kicks I looked at one the other day.  It linked me to a website that looked genuine enough, very similar in design to other known refutable companies who offer refinancing services online. What seemed too good to be true however was the rate, 1.95%!  REALLY???  1.95%???  Wow, maybe I should submit their form and express my interest to them. But then again, maybe not. Who was this company? Did they have any contact information listed on their web site? I couldn’t find any. That was red flag #2 (Remember, #1 was the unrealistic interest rate). Something else seemed odd. Only one page for the web site. That’s it. One page with a form on it asking for information from me (Red flag #3). Digging even deeper I found that the web domain was registered to a company in Hong Kong. Now why would a company in Hong Kong have any interest in loaning me money at a ridiculously low interest rate? (Red flag #4). The answer is, of course, they don’t. What they’re looking for is fish to nibble at bait on a hook, likely targets to pump for more personal information and make them victims of identity theft.  If they were a refutable company, they would have had a plainly stated privacy policy and reliable contact information outside of the online service. Couple this with the fact that most of the ebay-like identity theft schemes I’ve seen lately also originate from the orient and you’ve got red flags all over the place.  Again, adults being duped, not children.  They’re very clever and it’s very easy to get caught in one of their schemes.

One last little tidbit. I am delighted to report that the Warwick, RI Republican city committee has shown an interest in labeling their web site with PICS compliant labels from ICRA to be included in the SurfSafely.com directory! After some email dialog with them they have also promised to bring my concerns over the White House web site being unlabeled (Not even whitehousekids.gov is labeled) to the presidential reelection committees and the White House web staff for consideration. Say a little prayer. This could be the start of something very big for all of us.

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AOL 9.0 “Optimized”?

So the question everyone wants to know the answer to: How does the new AOL 9.0 Optimized really stack up? This is going to be a brief review because there’s really not much to tell.

As usual AOL offers easy to find, neatly packaged content. They are just an Internet Service Provider with a glorified web portal and pretty graphics. People are comfortable with it and that’s why it sells. Personally, I find the AOL desktop crowded and difficult to navigate. So many windows open on top of one another that it’s often difficult to remember which ones it opened previously or even get back to them without closing others first.

The first claim AOL makes for their better than ever software is it’s faster, more agile. Is it really? Or might it be that the minimum computing horsepower they require virtually doubles with each new release? Is it really faster or are they forcing us to buy faster computers to realize this benefit? Let’s examine the facts. Nothing enhances the speed of a computer like more RAM (Random Access Memory). RAM is much faster than hard drive for memory management. The more RAM your computer has the less it must go to the hard drive for information during the execution of a program. Here are the minimum requirements for the typical Windows 98 computer:

AOL versionMinimum processorMinimum Hard disk spaceMinimum RAMVideo
6.0Any pentium.
They start at only 60MHz!
113 MB16 MB640x480_min
800x600_optimal
7.0Pentium 166147 MB32 MB640x480_min
800x600_optimal
8.0Pentium 166141 MB64 MB800x600_optimal
9.0Pentium 166~430 MB128 MB800x600_min
1024x768_optimal

As you can see, every major version doubles the amount of minimum RAM and also increases other requirements. So what really is getting faster? The software or your computer?

Dial-up customers do now have the ability to connect using something AOL calls Topspeed. This is identical to 5x services being offered by other ISPs. What it does is drastically reduce (compress) the size of downloaded images that are part of web pages. The more graphic the web site the greater the perceived enhancement in speed. The tradeoff is heavily compressed images are much lower quality often taking on a blurry and granular appearance. With Topspeed enabled, if you want to see the images clearly you must click each one to bring it into better “focus”. It has no effect on AOL Broadband.

Been punted lately? One of the biggest complaints I and everyone else I know have ever had with the AOL service is the frequent unexpected disconnects from the service (Being “punted”). Think an always-on broadband connection offers any relief from being punted? Think again. In just one hour of being online with a broadband connection, I was punted twice! Quite frankly, I was surprised. Then just as quickly, remembering who it is I was dealing with, I wasn’t surprised. The new auto-fix feature popped up and told me it could fix it for me if I would allow it to. So, I allowed it to. After several guided steps, at the end of it all it popped up with one last message that went something like this. “Sorry, I guess we couldn’t fix your problem after all.” Well, that left me somewhat less than satisfied but definitely not surprised.

It is refreshing that AOL does seem to be taking computer security more seriously these days. They now offer McAfee Personal Firewall completely free as part of the service. I even recommend firewalls for dial-up customers but if you have broadband there is no question at all that you should not be without it. They also offer McAfee antivirus free for 30 days, then deeply discounted at +$2.95/month. This too is well worth the investment. If you keep the AOL service, definitely take advantage of this offer.

One more thing that did impress me. Uninstalling the software did seem to remove it completely. I’ll keep you posted on this one however. These things have a way of revealing themselves long after the fact.

One last tip. Beware the implied contract. If you’re curious enough to want to check out the new AOL 9.0 (as I did) but are fairly certain you won’t be keeping it (as I was) be very careful. When you call to terminate your trial account you will be told that you may continue to log onto the service until the original expiration date as a “courtesy”. Just keep in mind, AOL will not prevent you from logging on after that date. Doing so constitutes your acceptance to continue with the service which they will gleefully bill you for. Take my advice. When you call to cancel, uninstall the AOL software immediately to prevent anyone from accidentally consenting to a service continuation for you.

End of report. Uninstall successful. Good riddance to it yet again.

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