AOL is an initialism for America Online, a corporate internet service provider (ISP). The ISP is owned by Time Warner, which uses the NYSE stock symbol "TWX". America Online is perhaps best known for "AOL Instant Messenger" (AIM) , a free "instant messaging" computer program. Today AOL's main competitor is Microsoft's MSN.
AOL got its start as a short-lived venture called Control Video, a company whose product was an online service called Gameline for the Atari 2600 video game console. Subscribers bought a modem from the company for $49.95 and paid a one-time $15 setup fee. Gameline permitted subscribers to temporarily download games and keep track of high scores, at a cost of approximately $1 an hour.
Case changed the company's strategy, and in 1985 launched a sort of mega-BBS for Commodore 64 and 128 computers, originally called Quantum Link ("Q-Link" for short). He also changed the name of the company to Quantum Computer Services. In October 1989, Quantum launched its AOL service for Apple II and Macintosh computers, and in February 1991 AOL for MS-DOS was opened. In October 1991, Quantum changed its name to America Online. These changes began a trend of tremendous growth in the number of pay-based BBS services, like Prodigy and CompuServe, with whom AOL was competing.
In the early 1990s, AOL was among the first service providers to give customers from outside academia and the military access to the Internet. They also emphasized a relatively user-friendly, graphics-heavy interface. As such, they were primarily associated with the influx of new users, unversed in netiquette, who came online in that period. In some quarters, such as Usenet, their name remains synonymous with impolite and ignorant new users.
AOL has long maintained a massive marketing push, mailing sign-up diskettes and CD-ROMs to over 100 million households, which fueled a massive growth and helped them dominate the online field. As a reaction of this, in August 2001 the campaign No more AOL CDs was started. Their goal is to collect one million unwanted CDs and give them back via a huge armada of trucks. An America Online spokesperson, who may have been missing the point of the campaign, pledged to send a large amount of AOL CD-ROMs to the campaign when they near the million mark.
In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, AOL began purchasing and supporting many popular software projects and companies. These purchases included CompuServe; Nullsoft's Winamp, purchased in 1999 for $8686 million; Netscape and ICQ.