AOL Starts Back Door Testing of Free AIM Mail for Mac

America Online, Inc. announced Monday the beta launch of AIM Mail, a free e-mail service intended to compete with Googleis popular Gmail service launched in 2004.

AIM Mail is a Web-based free e-mail service that offers its users two gigabytes of e-mail storage. The service is being launched through the Windows version of the AIM client, and on the surface, Mac users need not apply. A spokesperson for AOL, however, confirmed with The Mac Observer that Mac users can participate in the beta program directly through a Web login.

The service offers two gigabytes of e-mail storage, the same as Googleis GMail, and includes virus and spam blocking features, as well a single sign-on process for both the network and e-mail through the AIM client. The problem for Mac users is that the service is only being offered through AIM 5.9, an AIM client that is in beta itself, and is only available to Windows users.

An AOL spokesperson gave TMO the direct login for the service so that Mac (and possibly Linux) users can test the service now. As of this writing, the service was accessible using the Firefox Web browser version 1.0 on Mac OS X 10.4 "Tiger." It was not accessible using Safari 2.0 in Tiger (our testing found the service hung after logging in).

General Web-based direct access to the service will be added "in coming months," according to the companyis announcement.

AOL is leveraging both the AIM network with the service, as well as the brand name itself. In addition, the company is leveraging AOLis ease-of-use by adding AIM-availability notification in e-mails sent by users who are logged into the AIM network (similar to how Apple offers iChat availability notification through Mail), and by allowing users to send e-mails to AIM and AOL users by simply sending it to their user name , as opposed to .

To outside users, AIM Mail e-mail accounts will simply use the domain.

Other features of the service include the ability to unsend a message sent to AIM Mail or AOL users (if the e-mail hasnit yet been read), auto-completion of e-mail addresses in your AIM Mail address book, an AIM availability indicator in your address book, support for Rich Text Format, a built-in spell checker, and the ability to set up away messages.

All e-mails will include banner ads. In contrast, Google serves up targeted text ads through its Gmail service. An AOL spokesperson told TMO that AOL currently has no plans to mine information in e-mails going through AIM Mail.

Windows users can try the service through the beta version of AIM 5.9, which can be downloaded from the Web site.

Mac users can try the service by logging in with their normal AIM account information at Linux users who have tested it are asked to post in the comments below.