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AOL UK abandons Mac OS X

Beta programme culled to focus on Windows

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AOL UK has pulled the plug on Mac OS X support, effectively freezing the development of the Classic version of its online access software - all to focus its efforts on Windows software development.

AOL has offered a public beta version of AOL 5.0 for Mac OS X for some time, but this test programme was recently shut down. When testers contacted the company to find out why, Dominic Wells, AOL UK's Editor-in-Chief, told users that the company had halted the beta test because it had decided to cease supporting OS X altogether.

"As a result of the recent changes in Apple's operating systems, we had to redesign the AOL software from the ground up," Wells wrote. "We had released a Mac OS X version of AOL 5.0 for beta testing earlier this year, but this became unworkable and therefore redundant when Apple released Mac OS X version 10.1."

Continued support, said Wells, will require AOL UK to build the software from "scratch" all over again.

This is despite the fact that the US version of AOL does work under OS X 10.1. The work in question, according to an AOL UK spokesman, centres on localising the UK version. This, he said, takes "many, many months of effort".

However, as far as we can tell, converting the US version to the UK release is merely a matter of swapping in the UK sound set, changing the dial-up number look-up and pointing the software's built-in browser to the UK homepage.

We're sure there's more to it than that, but the changes seem primarily cosmetic rather than functional.

The spokesman said AOL UK's decision to pull OS X support was "purely a business decision" and effectively reiterated what Wells had already said: "It is, however, an unavoidable fact that Mac members make up an extremely small percentage of our members. We're a mass-market company, and the mass-market computer of choice is the PC - so our priority has to be to develop new software for this audience."

However, the spokesman was keen to stress AOL UK's ongoing support for its Mac-based customers. "We will continue to support Apple's current operating system," he said.

This support does not extend to upgrading AOL 5.0 to AOL 6.0 or even AOL 7.0, the current Windows release. Again, the UK Mac market is too small for that, he said.

And if AOL freezes out Mac users in this way, the Apple market will appear to become a lot smaller - there's certainly something of the self-fulfilling prophecy about AOL UK's stance.

The issue, we suspect, is not the cost of localising the OS X version per se but the extra cost of supporting that once the software is finalised and is made available to Mac users of all levels of technical experience. But then isn't that (at least in part) what users pay their £14.99 for?

The AOL spokesman told The Register that the decision "isn't set in stone", holding open the possibility that development work may continue at a future date. Mac users may be inclined to vote with their feet. ®

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