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Requiem for a Featherweight

Gil Amelio wasted no time focusing Apple’s attention on projects at the core of the company’s business. As of 31-Mar-96, Apple will discontinue its online service eWorld and turn to America Online for help. AOL will now be the preferred online service on Performas sold in North America (as well as on the appropriate Educator Advantage machines, Power Mac Small Business Solutions, consumer PowerBooks, and at least some Macs in Europe), and Apple will move its online programming efforts to AOL. It’s still unknown if Apple’s official technical support will move to AOL – the press release notes only that Apple "intends to expand its corporate and technical support services on the service [AOL] as well as launching new interactive programming on AOL as well as the Internet."

After the 31-Mar-96 closure of eWorld, Apple and AOL will work together to move eWorld customers to AOL by offering special transition forums, email forwarding, and 15 free hours on AOL. Finally, AOL has "renewed its commitment for development and innovation to the Macintosh platform with new refined client software and complete World Wide Web integration." We’ll see – frustration accessing the Internet through AOL’s client software and Web browser is one of the main reasons I hear from people switching from AOL to a true Internet dialup account. In related news, both AOL and CompuServe have signed deals with Netscape to use Netscape Navigator as their Web browser.

I’m not surprised Apple finally decided to pull the plug on eWorld. The service reportedly garnered only about 150,000 subscribers, which is a drop in the bucket compared to AOL’s five million (CompuServe currently boasts about four million). For the most part, the heyday of the online service is over, and only the strongest will survive and adapt to the continuing growth of the Internet. AOL seems quite healthy, but GEnie and Delphi have more or less faded from view, Prodigy (with its 1.5 million users) is reportedly up for sale, and H&R Block is turning CompuServe into a publicly traded company. More telling perhaps is that Microsoft has canned Microsoft Network as an online service and is instead moving MSN’s content to the Web.

eWorld suffered in a number of ways right from the start. For a long time Apple didn’t offer official technical support on eWorld, something that if done correctly at eWorld’s launch might have made a difference. Due in part to its reliance on the AOL software and Apple’s modifications, it took eWorld longer than AOL to embrace the Internet, all while the Internet rapidly became the reason many people took the online leap. Finally, for various reasons, Apple never pushed eWorld as hard as AOL pushed their service, which resulted in Mac users choosing AOL over eWorld much of the time. Had eWorld picked up a million users in its lifetime, it might have stood a better chance.

Ironically, AOL was to be "Personal AppleLink" in its early days, but Apple backed out of the deal before starting eWorld several years later. Perhaps even more ironically, it seems as though the venerable AppleLink will outlive eWorld, its one-time successor, if not by long.

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