Competition forces AOL to give away free email, software

US Internet giant AOL will give away email accounts and software now available only to its paying customers in a strategy shift likely to accelerate the decline in its core Internet access business, an Associated Press report said.
The report said the decision, announced by AOL parent Time Warner, removed the few remaining reasons for AOL subscribers to keep paying when they already had high-speed Internet access through a cable or phone company.
AOL hoped that by making services free, it could draw Internet users to its ad-supported Web sites and keep them from defecting to Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft, which had offered free email for years.
The move marked the end of an era for a company that grew rapidly in the 1990s by making it easy to connect online, giving millions of Americans their first taste of email, the Web and instant messaging through discs that continually arrived unsolicited in mailboxes.
Executives believed they could find that amount in savings by the end of 2007 by cutting marketing, network and overhead costs, the report said.