Why does anyone use AOL? What are some alternatives?

Excuse my ignorance on this, but I use a Mac and just access the web through the Safari, or Firefox. I have some friends across the country who are not computer savvy at all, who use AOL. Why? In fact, one of them just emailed me for alternatives and I realized I’m unable to answer them.

So, why does anyone need AOL these days. Can’t someone with a PC just access the web through Explorer? I must be missing something. Also, what are some options to AOL. If it helps, these people do not live in remote areas. One is in Manhattan, one in Madison, WI, the other in Fairfield county, CT.


Some people started on AOL and don’t want to change. Or they like the services that AOL provides.

You need to find out if they’re actually using dial-up access, or if they’re using AOL for Broadband. If it’s the former, google for local dial-up options. If it’s the latter, find out what they’re using it for and suggest accordingly–for instance, if it’s email, suggest something like Gmail or Yahoo!Mail.

Explorer and Firefox are web browsers. They don’t let you get online; they just let you do some things once you are online. What AOL is is an internet service provider: Basically, your computer calls up an AOL computer in your area over the phone lines, to connect to that AOL computer, and from there, to the rest of the Internet. Once you have that connection, then you can use Firefox to view webpages, or send and receive e-mails, or play online games, or whatever, but you need that connection.

Now, there are many other companies that offer the same service as AOL (letting your computer connect to one of theirs over a phone line), and many of them are cheaper than AOL, so it is certainly possible to replace AOL. But Firefox, Internet Explorer, and the like don’t do it.

Does AOL provide a web browser still? I teach computers (volunteer) at the local library and some people just refuse to do anything that isn’t right out of the box. They don’t want to have to set anything up, period.

AOL is (or was when I last checked) pretty user friendly.

All ISPs, dialup or broadband, provide setup disks that take care of getting things up and running just as easily as AOL, if not better. In fact, many people consider those ISPs that install the least cruft (hopefully nothing at all) on your PC to be the best. The less crapware added, the less likely there will be trouble during the install or if something happens down the road. AOL is about as opposite to user friendly as you can get.

Back when I taught Computer Literacy, I compared AOL to the candy counter at a movie theater. Yes, they do sell candy, but if all you want to buy is candy there are more convenient and cheaper options.

I use aol for my email, but comcast is my ISP. I don’t want to change my email address, so I keep using it.

Yes, but I don’t think this is what the OP was referring to, was he? :confused:
I started on AOL on July 17, 1994 and at the time, it was the best at what it did. It didn’t offer web access then, but did soon after and we stuck with it while we had dial up internet. By 2000 or 2001, broadband became more reasonable and AOL charged a fortune for it.

That was when we quit. I assume they still charge a lot for it, right?

The only people who must stick with it are people who use dialup internet, can’t get any other service in their area, or really like the user interface.

When I used it, they had the internet and they had the “AOL stuff”, which was only available on AOL. This was where I first got onto the Straight Dope Message board in 1997, by the way.

Do they still offer stuff that isn’t on the internet? Or is AOL just an ISP now?

I’m on dial-up AOL purely because of inertia. When I first got online in 1998 my parents and other people I knew had AOL so I went with it too. I’m not too internet tech savvy myself so it’s been easier to stick with what I know. I think I’m gonna switch soon. Almost everything on the web has graphics and stuff that loads so slow on dial-up.

I wouldn’t even say it’s all that user friendly anymore. Longtime users, who access it through the desktop client, now find themselves increasingly annoyed by the removal of functionality as the company attempts to reposition itself as a content portal. Menu options that worked out of the box now lead to community forums; where once the company or its software simply did a thing for you straight away, you now are pointed to web pages where you might be able to figure out how to do it yourself.

Some people stay with it because they believe there is no way to transfer their bookmarks to another browser. But this isn’t true anymore.

Finally some people are locked into it by overzealous security protocols of banks and other online businesses. My wife set up our online bank access on her notebook using AOL; the bank will let us online ONLY using that computer and ONLY through AOL. That is, unless and until she remembers if she put down the answer to the security question as “John Adams High School” or “Adams High School” or “Adams HS” or “Adams SHS”–all different, and only one will be accepted.

I think a lot of people use it because it comes pre-installed with nearly every computer on earth.

I somehow end up being tech support for friends and their family members who are clueless about computers. I ask what ISP they use and, instead of saying “I don’t know what that is”, they always say “Outlook” or “Explorer.” If I ask what browser they are using, they say “AOL.” Ok, how do you get on the internet? “You mean like email?”

Asking them anything is a waste of time, but they all use AOL because that’s what was on their computer and they signed up for it because they wanted to get online. They don’t know there are alternatives.

Try asking them whom they pay for their internet access. Essentially all ISPs require payment, and they should be able to see what that item is on their credit card bill.

And by “on earth” you mean “in the US,” right? :wink:

For the OP: if your friends fret about leaving AOL because they don’t want to lose their long-standing email address (a reason, I think, a lot of people stay with AOL)…they can keep the address for free when they switch ISPs. They just need to collect their mail using AOL’s Webmail.

I still use AOL dial-up as my primary ISP because:

  1. My boss pays for it (something he hasn’t offered to do when I’ve asked about changing)

  2. I’m on the road a lot and I have rarely landed anywhere without a local service number from them

  3. I’m mostly doing e-mail and maybe some smaller files so I really don’t care about download speed. Boards can suck sometimes but I’m old and don’t mind waiting.

This seems like a genuine advantage for some dial up users. You would have to dial a long distance number to get your local ISP, and forget cable or DSL, but you can probably get AOL anywhere there is a phone. Most hotels have wifi, some have free wifi, but every hotel has a phone.

Yes, it was an exaggeration, but I’m not sure by how much. They are active over half the globe, I assume they make deals to get pre-installed with new computers in some of those places too.

I don’t know, could be the op meant for connection, could be the op didn’t realize you could use AOL and a different isp at the same time.

Given the ambiguity my post seemed relevant.

My mom uses AOL, despite having broadband.

Why? I have no idea. She’s just stubborn and doesn’t want to deal with even minor changes.

My parents started on AOL and just don’t see the point in changing, much. I just got Firefox installed and left a list of commands for them, but they’ve still been using IE for AOL until now, even though they finally bought broadband. My dad also likes that he’s told AOL to email him any stories with Venus, MIT, Space Shuttle, etc. I’ve told him there are alternatives, but he doesn’t see the point in learning them.

I have a relative who is not at all tech-savvy. Her main reason to be on AOL is that dial-up is her only option. But even if she could get broadband, I’d tell her to stay on AOL because everything is point-and-click. The idea of a URL is way beyond her. She can go to a search box, tell it what to look for, and then click on whatever looks good. But she can’t even learn how to save sites in her Favorites (or whatever AOL calls it).

That said, AOL has so many overlapping windows that I can’t call it user-friendly at all. It would be very nice if every time she went online, AOL would look the same. But it always looks different. And that means she phones me to ask how to get to her email.

That was my reason for choosing AOL, in fact. I knew that there was a Straight Dope area on AOL, and I was delighted to find the message board as well. Remember the brain?

I enjoyed a lot of AOL-only content, but I hated a lot of the things that went with AOL…the way that they constantly wanted to download and install new versions of it, for instance. Usually, when I logged off, I wanted or needed to make some phone calls, and didn’t have half an hour or so to wait for the content to download. I got into the habit of unplugging the modem when I logged off.

I had used QuantumLink (which I believe eventually morphed into AOL) and US Videotel services before, but those services did not allow the user to go out into the internet.

AOL held my hand, and let me learn at my own pace. I also was able to take some online chat courses, on extremely basic things, which was very useful to me. I was able to access my AOL account when I was traveling, which many other services weren’t able to do. AOL provided unique content and, at the time, it had different maturity settings, so that parents could easily set their kids’ accounts to be restricted to kids only areas. If I’d had a kid who was enamored of the online community, I would have welcomed this feature. Basically, AOL used to offer a lot of content and services that couldn’t be found elsewhere. I don’t know what they offer now.

I don’t know of any cable company that DOESN’T offer internet service, and I think just about every phone landline company also offers internet service.