AOL Turns 5.0

America Online will ship its version 5.0 software on Tuesday. This upgrade will include new search tools, more personalization options, a "You've Got Pictures" digital photo album and special features for subscribers with high-speed access. Version 5.0 users will also be able to buy a vowel or six: The new software lets users create longer screen names, up to 16 characters.

We have a reviewer looking at this release for review in an upcoming issue; in the meantime, if you want to talk about your experience with AOL 5.0, drop us a line at ffwd@washpost.com.

Identity Crisis

Ever wander into a chat room and wonder if the person you were chatting with was who he or she or it claimed? (If you haven't, perhaps you've never been in a chat room.) A doctoral candidate in computer science at Georgia Tech, Joshua Berman, has decided to make a game out of the experience. Sign up, download the software, and you and a group of people will try on new personalities--say, a 20-something black male, a 40-ish Jewish woman, or an antsy technology journalist on deadline. At the end of the chat, everyone tries to guess everyone else's real selves. Berman says that the point of the project (partly funded by Microsoft) is to get people to think about their online and offline identities. Caveat surfer: The servers running this project have been flakey, so you may wind up learning more about your patience than your self-image. http://www.cc.gatech.edu/elc/turing/

Story Updates:

Hard Cell?

Last week's chart on cell-phone providers should have reported that Nextel's current promotion extends through the end of next year. Also, some readers asked which services require yearly contracts (and therefore can impose cancellation penalties). AT&T, Bell Atlantic and Cellular One require yearly contracts, while Nextel and Sprint PCS do not.

-- Compiled by Mike Musgrove

Most popular downloads at Cnet's Download.com (week ending Sept. 26)

1. ICQ 936,518

2. Winamp 302,842

3. Webshots Desktop 173,931

4. WinZip 143,721

5. DirectX Drivers 113,933

6. GoZilla 87,008

7. CuteFTP 83,666

8. Sonique 76,866

9. GetRight 75,528

10. Netzip Classic 64,363

Source: Cnet

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EVENTS

User Group Hug -- Saturday, October 2, 11:45 a.m. The Northern Virginia Linux Users Group will host its monthly meeting as well as a sixth-anniversary celebration. Old Dominion Brewing Company, 44633 Guilford Drive, Ashburn. http://www.tux.org/novalug/

Class Structure -- Thursday, October 7, 3:30 p.m. "Online Courses As Effective Learning Environments: The Importance of Collaborative Methods," a lecture by Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff of the New Jersey Institute of Technology. A.V. Williams Rm. 2460, University of Maryland, College Park. http://www.cs.umd.edu/hcil/f99-lectures.html