America Online, as part of an overhaul of its AOL Instant Messenger software, released a new trial version that adds new communications tools.

Dubbed AIM Triton, the software lets people manage all their contact info from within the IM window, as well as place calls to any phone, send text messages to cell phones, watch Internet TV and listen to online radio.

"Integrated communications is the big idea," said Chamath Palihapitiya, vice president and general manager of AIM and ICQ for America Online.

While AIM Triton won't be officially launched until fall, you can try out an early version by downloading the beta-test release at AOL first opened the program up to public testing months ago and pushed out the most recent release last week.

AIM users will immediately notice a new interface that groups IM chats, voice calls, video messages, photos, file transfers and games under a row of tabs in the main window. A new, separate "QuickNote" window makes it easy to switch between IM, e-mail and phone text messages when trying to reach buddies.

Longtime users who still employ AIM only to send text notes back and forth to other computer users may feel they are at the controls of a spaceship by the time they've clicked through the various links to Web search, online radio and AOL TV. But multitasking types can feel right at home with features that let them, say, run a search while chatting with friends, then pass along any info they find.

Palihapitiya said AOL is still trying to decide whether to charge for voice calls placed to regular phones via the new AIM. If AOL does, it will keep its rates much lower than those charged by rival Internet phone providers, he said.

Users who find AIM's marketing and promotion too heavy-handed, however, should not expect any relief from Triton. In the current release, the ad window takes up a bit more space than before.

AOL's instant-messaging system is the most widely used today, with 9 million people sending 2 billion instant messages on a typical day.

AOL hopes to boost usage even more by adding contact management capabilities, such as automatically retrieving names, e-mail addresses and phone numbers from Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express address books as well as Yahoo Mail and other Web-mail services. The new Triton will then be able to synchronize all of those contacts with an AOL address book and AIM buddy list, so that changes made in one of these programs will show up in all the others.

No Fear Here

The Web often responds to big tragedies by creating special sites that invite creative group participation. For the London terrorist attack this month, the impromptu global response came at a site called "We're Not Afraid." The site went online the day of the attacks and invited people to e-mail images showing they had no fear of terrorists.

People sent a ton of pet photos, saying things like, "Cheshire is not afraid." One, for example, showed a squirrel munching inside a dog bowl and said, "Me afraid? Never!"

Others among the thousands of posted photos included shots of flying saucers, people sky-diving, and images of London Underground signs altered to say "Not Afraid" in place of Tube stations' names. An image of a young girl in Luca, Italy, proclaimed: "I'll always be proud and free." One guy submitted an official-looking certificate that proclaimed "Daniel Everett of Zurich, Switzerland, is NOT AFRAID."

Lycos Celebrates, Shows Its Age

Another Internet company honored its 10th anniversary this month with a bit of online back-patting: not Amazon, but Lycos, the search engine that emerged from Carnegie Mellon University in 1995 and later was sold to Spanish phone giant Terra Networks for $12.5 billion.

Lycos has since fallen on hard times and was sold again last fall to South Korean Internet firm Daum Communications Corp. for $95 million.

This week Daum gave Lycos a streamlined new home page and issued a news release saying the site now features more multimedia, blogs and news. But the only feature in the Lycos online empire that really distinguishes it anymore is Tripod, which offers easy-to-use tools for publishing Web sites, blogs, photo albums and other online formats.

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