The Annoyance:

If I hear AOL’s chirpy “You’ve Got Mail!” message yet one more time, I’ll pound my laptop audio system into oblivion. How can I flip off this “Up with People” greeting?

The Repair:

You are not alone on this need, and luckily the repair is straightforward. In AOL 9.0, sign up and choose Settings on the AOL toolbar. Click on the By Class tab and select the A-Z tab. Then click on N-S, choose Sounds, and uncheck the “Enable AOL sounds such as the Welcome greeting and Instant Message chimes” field (Determine 6-1). Click on Save, and the voice will disappear. In AOL 8, choose Settings Preferences, click on the Toolbar & Sound hyperlink, and uncheck the “Enable AOL sounds box.

Figure 6-1. AOL, please shut up! Uncheck the box at the bottom of the screen to turn off the “You have Received Mail!” greeting.


The Annoyance:

With Version 8, AOL introduced a new annoyancethe AOL Companion. This pointless little applet launches whenever I connect to the Internet, whether I want it to or not. How can I send it away?

The Fix:

It’s easy to kill the little critter. Click the small X in the upper-right corner of the AOL Companion to close it. AOL will pop up a dialog box asking if you really want to close it. You do, of course, but before clicking Yes, make sure you check the “Do Not Present This Message Once more” box (Figure 6-2). That way, you won’t be annoyed by this annoyance’s annoying pop-up again.

Figure 6-2. Applet begone! Close the AOL Companion, and tell it to never return.


The Annoyance:

Can we please take AOL’s browser out into the cornfield and shoot it? The #@$@#$#!%! thing doesn’t even have Forward or Back buttons! Can’t I do something as simple as go forward and backward between sites?

The Fix:

You’re looking for buttons in all the wrong places. For some reason, AOL placed tiny forward and back buttons at the bottom of the AOL toolbar (just to the right of the QuickStart button), rather than in the browser window itself. You can also use Alt-Right Arrow and Alt-Left Arrow to move back and forth among pages you’ve visited.

Do not just like the AOL browser? Ignore it. While you hook up with AOL, simply launch a distinct browser, equivalent to Netscape, and browse the Internet with out one in all AOL’s worst annoyances.


The Annoyance:

Windows, windows, and more windows! Whenever I use AOL, it seems to open about 537 windows, and I get completely lost navigating among them. The other day I even got an “open window restrict” error message, and AOL wouldn’t let me open any new windows. How can I close down all windows except one?

The Fix:

It’s easy. On the AOL menu, select Window Close All Except Front. All the windows except the one on top will close. Unfortunately, this technique wont work on the AOL Welcome screen, because there’s actually no way to completely close this screen. Even clicking the X in its upper-righthand corner doesn’t close it; it only minimizes it.


The Annoyance:

At times, my AOL screen has more windows than a skyscraper. How can I shut these panes in the neck?

The Fix:

AOL windows proliferate faster than rabbits, but there are a few ways to keep a lid on this population explosion. First, trim down the windows that open at startup. Like it or not, the Welcome screen and the AOL Channels bar on the left launch on startup, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them. But you can stop other windows from launching. If you use AOL 9.0, go to Keyword: Start-up Settings. In the Additional Windows section, make sure that the None button is selected and click Save.

Next, tell your Buddy List not to load on startup. Go to the Buddy List setup screen (Keyword: IM Settings) and click the General Buddy tab. Uncheck the “Present me my Buddy Checklist at sign-on” box, and click Save.

When you sign on, you’ll only see the Welcome screen and AOL Channels. Close AOL Channels by clicking the X in its upper-righthand corner. You’re now down to one window, the Welcome screen, which can’t be closed. You can, however, minimize it by clicking the X in its top-right corner. Do that, and you’ll see one of the Seven Wonders of the Computing World: an almost completely bare AOL screen (see Figure 6-3). If you’d like your Welcome screen to start minimized every time, choose Window Remember Window Size and Position.

Figure 6-3. Rarer than a dodo bird: an AOL screen almost completely free of windows.

It is simple to lose observe of all of the home windows you will have open. To maintain them tidy, occasionally select Window Cascade. This may line up your entire open home windows, every one behind and barely above the opposite. You may then transfer by means of them, closing any that you just dont want. To shut the whole lot besides the highest window, comply with the recommendation within the “Stop AOL Window Overload” Annoyance.


The Annoyance:

Why does AOL take so $#@$# long to exit? And how can I speed it up?

The Fix:

The most likely culprit is the amount of space AOL has set aside for temporary art filesthat is, graphics used by your AOL software when you’re online. (This is separate from the amount of space it sets aside for Internet Explorer temporary files.) By default, it sets aside 60 MB of space for its temporary art files; when you exit AOL, it deletes those temporary art files, which slows down your exit. So if you shrink the amount of space devoted to art files, you should speed up shutdowns.

To change the space allocation, click Settings on the AOL toolbar, click the AZ tab, click NS, and click Personal Storage Settings. The Personal Storage Settings dialog box will appear. In the Graphics Settings section at the bottom, select a number smaller than the default of 60 MB (for example, 20 MB), then click Save. That should solve the problem.


The Annoyance:

It’s bad enough that AOL litters my screen with windows, but even worse are the pop-ups that AOL constantly throws at me. How can I turn these off?

The Fix:

Luckily, it’s simple to do. Go to Keyword: Popups, check the “Suppress AOL (R) member-only particular affords” box, and click Save. While you’re at it, check the “Suppress pop-ups from Internet sites I go to utilizing AOL (R) software program” box, too (see Figure 6-4). When you visit web sites with the AOL browser, you’ll eliminate their pop-ups, too.

Figure 6-4. Pop-ups begoneput a stop to AOL and web pop-ups from this screen.


The Annoyance:

I recently subscribed to AOL, and now I’m getting tons of junk mail (the kind the postman brings to your door, not email) from AOL asking me to buy all sorts of stuff I don’t need. How can I stop this flood of analog spam?

The Fix:

Names and addresses are worth big bucks to advertisers, and AOL, like many other businesses, sends “particular affords” to its subscribers. Turn off the spigot by going to Keyword: Marketing Preferences, clicking “U.S. Mail from AOL,” selecting the “No, I don’t need to obtain particular affords from AOL by mail” option, and then clicking OK. While you’re here, you can turn off other ways AOL annoys you with its special offers by clicking the appropriate button (Telephone, for example) and then selecting the “No” option for each.

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The Annoyance:

I’ve finally had it with AOL’s immensely annoying browser and am making the switch to Internet Explorer. But I’ve got over 100 Favorite Places in AOL, and I’d like to move them over to Internet Explorer. Why can’t I do that?

The Fix:

If you’ve got AOL Versions 4, 5, 6, 7, or 8, FavoRipper (Figure 6-5) will do the trick. (Version 9 users, see below.) Download it from http://www.cablehead.com/downloads.htm, and after you install it, log into AOL. Then run FavoRipper, select your version of AOL (if you have Version 8, select Version 7it works for both), and click OK. Open your Favorites in America Online. Make sure all of your Favorite Places folders are open, then click OK, and they will be imported into Internet Explorer. They won’t overwrite your existing Internet Favorites. Instead, they’ll be placed in a new Favorites folder called Imported AOL Favorites. FavoRipper is shareware, and it will only import a limited number of Favorites unless you pay the $19.95 registration fee.

Figure 6-5. Export your Favorite Places from AOL to Internet Explorer, using FavoRipper.

If you have AOL Version 9, or if you want an all-around Favorites and bookmark organization tool in addition to one that will allow you to import your AOL Favorite Places into Internet Explorer, download URL Organizer 2 from http://www.urlorg.com/urlorganizer2 (the program is shareware; registration costs $16.95). To import your Favorites from AOL into Internet Explorer using this tool, follow these steps:

  1. In AOL, click the Favorite Places button.

  2. Click the Save/Replace button at the bottom right of the Favorite Places window.

  3. Select “Save My Favourite Locations as a Favorites File on my Pc,” and click OK.

  4. Choose a location for saving the file (in PFC format, the only choice), and click Save.

  5. Run URL Organizer 2, choose Lists Import, locate the PFC file you saved, select it, and import it. Your Favorite Places will be imported into their own folder in Internet Explorer.


The Annoyance:

I’ve tried using AOL’s online help systembut then again, I’ve also tried winning the lottery and gotten the same results: zilch. Is there a way I can get a human being to walk me through my AOL problems?

The Fix:

One of AOL’s best-kept secrets is its surprisingly good help, available via live chat and via 24/7 telephone support. To get help via chat, go to Keyword: Live Help. Click the Get LIVE Technical Help button, then click the Go to LIVE Help button, and a chat screen will launch (see Figure 6-6). In the top box, type in the name you want to be called during your chat (your “deal with”). Type your question in the box underneath, and click Chat Now. A chat window will open, and pretty soon a tech support person will log on and answer your question.

Figure 6-6. Holy cow, It’s a live human being! Tech support via live chat on AOL is surprisingly helpful!.

If you prefer Mr. Bell’s invention, there’s a list of AOL support numbers at Keyword: Call AOL. Scroll down to the “To contact AOL by phone” section and you’ll find a list of numbers for all kinds of problems, including tech support, billing, account cancellation, and others. But if you’re in a hurry, here are the main tech support numbers right now: Windows users should call 888-346-3704 or 800-827-6364; Mac users can dial 888-265-8007.


The Annoyance:

I’ve used AOL’s chat help service, but I can’t save the “dialog” from the session. If I highlight the text and press Ctrl-C or Ctrl-Insert, no text is saved. Nor can I choose Save from the File menuit’s grayed out. There’s gotta be a way to save this text!

The Fix:

AOL’s chat support runs as an ActiveX control that lacks a save feature. However, if you select the text, right-click it, and select Copy, you can paste it into a program such as Notepad or Word and save it from there.


The Annoyance:

When I use AOL’s browser to find and save pictures on the Internet, they’re saved in a format I’ve never heard of, and that no graphics program I have can read. What can I do?

The Fix:

In an attempt to speed up browsing, AOL uses the ART format, its own proprietary compression scheme for saving web graphics. But as you’ve discovered, almost no programs can read this format. One exception is Graphic Workshop Professional, available from http://www.mindworkshop.com/alchemy/gwspro.html, which can view ART and many other graphics file types, convert between formats, and do image editing. It’s shareware; registration is $44.95. To look at ART files within AOL, choose File Open and select the file.

While you’re shopping the Internet with the AOL browser (or with Web Explorer, on which the browser relies) and also you discover a image that you just need to save, right-click it and select Save Image As. Give the image a reputation, choose the format (no matter’s accessible within the “Save as type” drop-down), decide a spot to put it aside, and click on the Save button.

If you don’t want to download Graphic Workshop Pro, there’s a simple fix: tell AOL not to compress graphics. Then, when you save a web graphic, you can save it in a standard format (usually .jpg or .gif). From the AOL 9.0 toolbar, choose Settings and click “Web [Web] Choices.” (In AOL 8.0, select Settings Preferences and click “Web Properties (WWW).”) Then click the AOL Browser tab, select “By no means compress graphics,” and click OK (see Figure 6-7).

Figure 6-7. Tell AOL not to compress web graphics, and you’ll be able to save them using a standard format.

Another benefit of turning off compression is that pictures on the Web will appear sharperAOL’s compression tends to make them fuzzy.


The Annoyance:

AOL’s Voicemail system has caller ID built in, and if a message is left, the number is usually captured and saved as part of the email notification. But if a message isn’t lefti.e., if the caller hangs upthe number is available only briefly, in a pop-up box. Once the caller hangs up, it’s gone! Is there any way to retrieve this caller ID number?

The Fix:

Go to Keyword: Voicemail and click the View Call Log button. The log maintains a record of the last 100 calls you’ve received, even if the caller hung up and never left a message. (Although naturally, if the caller has blocked her number, you can’t retrieve any information about her.)


The Annoyance:

The programmers who designed AOL must be packratswhenever I install a new version, the old one stays on my system. How can I uninstall the old versions?

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The Fix:

At first this may seem impossible, since the Add or Remove Programs control panel only lists one AOL icon. But if you click the Change/Remove button next to the AOL icon, you’ll get a list of all the AOL versions on your system, as you can see in Figure 6-8.

To delete them, highlight one or more versions and click the Next button. If there are any downloaded files, emails, or other files associated with that version stored in your filing cabinet that you want to save, make sure you check the “Downloaded information” and/or “Submitting Cupboard information” boxes during the uninstall process.

Figure 6-8. You can remove multiple versions of AOL, but make sure you keep copies of any data or downloaded files that you don’t want to lose.


The Annoyance:

Last time I checked, the OL in AOL stood for “on-line”yet half the time I’m quickly booted off after I connect. What gives?

The Fix:

If you’re using a dial-up connection and you have call waiting, an incoming call-waiting signal can kick you off AOL. Your best bet is to turn off call waiting for the duration of your AOL call. Here’s how with AOL 9.0:

  1. Sign off America Online.

  2. On the Sign On screen, click the Sign On Options button.

  3. In the Setup window, if you have only one location, click Edit Numbers. If you have more than one location, select a location and click Edit Numbers.

  4. In the Edit AOL Access Phone Numbers window that appears, click Dialing Options.

  5. In the Edit Dialing Options window, check the box next to “Dial *70.” This will turn off call waiting for the duration of your connection to AOL.

  6. If you use a code other than *70 to turn off call waiting, type that number into the box, then click OK.

  7. Click OK to return to the Edit AOL Access Phone Numbers window, then click Next.

  8. In the Summary window, click Sign On to AOL Now to sign on immediately.

In AOL 8.0, the sequence is a bit different: click the Setup button on the Sign On screen, click Edit Numbers, double-click the dial-up number you’re using, and check the “Dial *70, to disable name ready” box. Then click OK. From now on, call waiting will be disabled whenever you sign onto AOL, but it will turn back on after you log off.

For AOL 9.0 users, if call waiting isn’t the problem, try using another AOL dial-in number:

  1. On the Sign On screen, click Sign On Options, and then click Set Up Your Connection.

  2. In the Setup window that appears, select a location and click Add Numbers.

  3. Type in the area code from which you want to connect, and click Next.

  4. In the Select AOL Access Numbers window that appears, select as many access phone numbers as you want from the list and click Next. (Insider tip: pick the numbers at the top of the listthey’re usually the newest.)

  5. Verify the information in the Confirm Your Selection window, and click Next.

  6. In the Summary window, click Sign On to AOL Now.

In AOL 8.0, from the Sign On screen, click the Access Numbers button, enter the desired area code, click Next, and then follow steps 46.

Still no improvement? Try reducing the number of running programs before you sign onto AOL. Some modems are memory- and processor-dependent, and if your RAM and processor are busy with other programs, that may be the problem. If you’re still having problems with your connection, get an updated driver for your modem. Check the manufacturer’s web site, or go to AOL Keyword: Modem Software Update.

Even when a dial-up quantity is in your space code, you is perhaps charged for a toll name. Examine along with your native telephone firm and ensure.


Some people complain that AOL charges too much. But how about a $2,500 phone bill for an AOL connection made over a single Christmas break? According to the Associated Press, when Elissa Walters was home from college on Christmas break, she connected to AOL using a phone number in her area code in Springfield, New Jersey. She didn’t realize that because she had to dial a 1 she was making a long-distance call, so she left the connection open continually. Six weeks later, her father was hit with a phone bill for $2,500 from his long-distance carrier, Qwest. After complaining and haggling, Qwest agreed to drop the bill to $375certainly not as bad as the original bill, but a whopper for merely connecting to AOL!


The Annoyance:

I just read your sidebar “The Case of the $2,500 AOL Connection,” and I d on’t want my kids pulling this stunt when they come home. What can I do?

The Fix:

First, reconfigure AOL to dial only truly local numbers. From AOL’s sign-on screen, click the Sign On Options button, click Add Numbers, and then enter your local area code. Pick dial-up numbers in your exchange (the first three digits of your seven-digit phone number). Then call your local phone company and confirm that these are truly local numbers.

If you get it wrong (or someone else changes the access number) and the visiting kids rack up a big long-distance phone bill, don’t bug AOLit’s not their fault. Contact your long-distance carrier and see if it will agree to eat the cost of the calls. Because of intense competition for customers, you can threaten to leave them for a competitor, and they may let you off the hook.


Some early versions of AOL booted you off the system if you were idle for a certain amount of time. Newer versions, such as 8.0 and 9.0, don’t do that, but if you’re stuck with an earlier version of AOL, you could get kicked off if you’re idle for too long or if line quality falters. The simple solution: upgrade to AOL 8.0 or 9.0, or upgrade to broadband Internet access, which isn’t subject to AOL’s “idle time” rules.

If you’re emotionally wedded to an earlier AOL version, there are free utilities that will generate faux activity so that AOL doesn’t boot you off. One of the best is the free KDA, available from http://www.triph.de/kda.htm. Warning: such utilities violate AOL’s terms, so use them at your own peril.


The Annoyance:

AOL is so easy, even a six-year-old can use it (no wisecracks about it being designed for six-year-olds, please). AOL itself is pretty PG, but there’s a lot of seamy stuff on the Internet that my kids could access via AOL’s browser. What’s a parent to do?

The Fix:

AOL offers a set of built-in tools that stop kids from encountering objectionable material. To use them, go to Keyword: Parental Controls. Before you set the controls, you must create a separate screen name for each of your children.

When you set parental controls, you can block kids from going to certain potentially objectionable parts of the Internet and America Online, and you can restrict their access to certain servicessuch as chat and emailthat could be gateways to the seamy stuff. As with any kind of parental controls, they’re not perfect. They’re not particularly flexible, so you can’t filter instant messenger content, for exampleyou can allow your kids to use instant messaging, or stop them from using it, but you can’t allow them to use it and filter out messages based on the message content or sender.

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In Parental Controls, you can use a set of prefab controls, or you can mix and match to create customized controls based on what you want to let each kid do online. It’s much simpler to use the built-in ones, but they’re also less flexible.

When you go to the Parental Controls area, you’ll see a list of all of the screen names in your account, as shown in Figure 6-9.

Figure 6-9. Command central for setting parental controls on AOL.

You set Parental Controls for each screen name individually. Click a screen name, and you’ll see the controls in place for that user. The choices are General, Kids Only, Young Teen, and Mature Teen. (If you don’t want any controls set for a screen name, leave it at General, the default.) America Online recommends that Kids Only be set for kids aged 12 and under, Young Teen be set for kids aged 13 through 15, and Mature Teen be set for kids aged 16 to 17.

To change the controls for the screen name, click the Edit Age Category button (see Figure 6-10), choose the category you want to use, click Save, and then click Close. Alas, it’s not crystal clear what the individual controls actually do or represent. Just taking a look at a bar or slider won’t tell you the specifics of how it controls a category (e.g., Web Browsing), but clicking the “Extra about these controls” link will give you some details.

Figure 6-10. Uh… what exactly do these controls do? Click the “Extra about these controls” link to find out.

Here’s the run-down of what the prefab Parental Controls settings do:

Kids Only

This setting lets kids (up to 12 years old) visit only one area of America Onlinethe Kids Only channeland visit only web sites that are selected by AOL for age-appropriate content. All other content areas and web sites are blocked; nor can kids send or receive instant messages. They can’t join member-created or private chat rooms either, although they can visit public chat rooms in the Kids Only area. They can send and receive mail, but they can’t send or receive file attachments or pictures.

Young Teen

This setting allows teens to visit some chat rooms, but not member-created or private chat rooms. They can visit only web sites that have been judged appropriate for kids under 15. They’re also blocked from Internet newsgroups that allow file attachments. There are no restrictions on IM and email.

Mature Teen

This restricts teens’ access to certain web sitesthey can only visit sites that have been judged appropriate for kids under. They’re also blocked from Internet newsgroups that allow file attachments. There are no restrictions on IM and email.

Block That Access!

Certain areas of AOL cost extraabove and beyond your monthly fee. These premium areas, which up your monthly fees, offer such goodies as online gaming. You can imagine how quickly some kids would run up big bills playing games or visiting other premium areas. Luckily, Parental Controls block access to these premium services, which is a good idea if you’re worried about your financial health.

Customizing Parental Controls

Parental Controls are one-size-fits-all. They treat all kids the same, and as any parent knows, no two kids are alike. Maybe you trust your kids to visit only appropriate web sites, but you’re worried about their use of chat or email. America Online lets you mix and match controls any way you like. The controls offer broad ways to protect your kidsfor example, by not allowing them to visit private chat rooms, or blocking them from receiving emails with attachmentsand they let you create customized profiles (for example, limiting web access while providing unlimited email access). However, they offer only limited ways to customize each control. So, for example, you can either allow your kids to use instant messaging or block them from using it, but that’s ityou can’t block messages from specific people. (Although if you dig into AOL’s mail controls at Keyword: Mail Controls, you can use the “Permit mail solely from Individuals I Know” to restrict messaging.)

This is a Parental Controls annoyance: if you set them, they do not go into impact instantly. You should log off the service, exit the America On-line software program, after which signal on once more.

To customize controls, go to Keyword: Parental Controls, and click the screen name of the user in question. Click the specific control you want to customize, change the options for it, then click the Save button at the bottom of the screenfor example, click “Chat management”to set controls for chat. (For once, logic from America Online!) Here’s how you customize each control:

Web Browsing control

If you’re worried that your kids are viewing inappropriate sites on the Web, use this control. You can limit them to sites appropriate for kids 12 and under, 15 and under, or 17 and under. However, you can’t customize the control furtherfor example, you can’t block access to specific web sites or domains, or, conversely, allow access to only specific sites or domains.

Instant Messaging control

You can completely block instant messaging, or limit it so that kids can’t receive attached image, voice, or video files. You can’t, as noted earlier, block IM by sender, or check a log to see whom your kids are sending messages to or getting them from.

E-mail control

This control is the same one you use when controlling spam and other email access. From here, for example, you can block mail containing files or attachments, block email by sender name, and even block mail by domain name. You can also create a list of people who are allowed to send your kids mail and block them from receiving mail from anyone else. (See the annoyance “AOL Chews Up My E mail!” for more details.)

Chat control

You can block different parts of chat with this control. For example, you can block chat hyperlinks, so if someone sends your kid a link to an inappropriate web site, he can’t click the link and go there. You can also block kids’ access to chat rooms in the People Connection area, which is aimed at an older audience and includes a number of adult topics. Likewise, you can block access to member-created chat rooms in the People Connection area and block access to conference rooms (large chat rooms on America Online).

Report Inappropriate Sites

AOL’s web-blocking software isn’t perfectthere’s no way it can know about every questionable site on the Internet. If you come across a site that you think should be blocked, go to Keyword: Report a Site. Then click the “Report a Website” button, supply the site’s URL, and indicate which age range the site is really for. Click the “Suggest a Website” button when you assume a web site ought to not be blocked.


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