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America Online for Dummies

America Online for Dummies

by John Kaufeld
With some 34 million AOL users out there, you might expect a major Internet traffic jam. Never fear -- with this handy road map on the seat, you'll merge into the high-speed lane without a scratch. In no time, you'll be cruising from chat rooms to super Web sites to AOL's new online communities, using all the latest AOL 8.0 features.


With some 34 million AOL users out there, you might expect a major Internet traffic jam. Never fear -- with this handy road map on the seat, you'll merge into the high-speed lane without a scratch. In no time, you'll be cruising from chat rooms to super Web sites to AOL's new online communities, using all the latest AOL 8.0 features.

Product Details

Wiley, John & Sons, Incorporated
Publication date:
For Dummies Series
Edition description:
2nd ed
Product dimensions:
7.39(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.31(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 5
Navigating the System and Marking Your Favorite Destinations

In This Chapter

  • Looking through the digital windows
  • Staying organized with Favorite Places

You don't need to travel much before you start collecting a mental list of places that you enjoyed, locales that you disliked, and restaurants that you never quite found, despite splendid directions from the hotel concierge. It's human nature -- we know what we like and, when in doubt, we usually choose the known instead of the unknown (particularly because we can go there without getting lost).

Human nature being what it is, by now you wandered the highways and byways of America Online, got lost among the windows a few times, and probably discovered several (perhaps many) likable haunts on both America Online itself and the Internet. Remembering your favorite spots and finding your way back to them, though, is a problem sometimes -- after all, computer monitors only have so much physical space for little sticky notes before you can't see the screen anymore.

That's where this chapter fits into your life. It looks at the main windows of your online world, explores the gentle art of navigating the system, and then explains how to rid your monitor of sticky notes thanks to the built-in Favorite Places option. If you're tired of stumbling across something cool and then losing the note that got you there (or if you're just tired of getting lost), then kick back, put your feet up, and flip through this chapter. It's here to help.

Your Windows on the World

Everywhere you go in America Online, you're faced with windows. Welcoming windows, channel windows, information area windows -- sheesh, spring cleaning around here must be a total nightmare.

Although the windows are a little confusing at first, they make America Online the special place that it is. Unlike other online services, America Online was designed with the Macintosh and Microsoft Windows graphical way of life in mind. And it shows.

This section introduces and explains the basic America Online navigation windows. It's designed to make you comfortable with the service's look and feel. The details of the content areas themselves come later, in Part III. For everything you ever wanted to know about the channels, turn to AOL Channels For Dummies in the dark-bordered pages near the back of this book -- that's the special book-within-a-book that's all about channels. For now, though, sit back, grab a bottle of spray cleaner, and head for the windows of your digital world.

The Welcome window: Hi there -- thanks for signing on today!

Every time you sign on to America Online, the Welcome window hops right up and offers a great big Hiya -- welcome to the system! This window is like an electronic version of the Wal-Mart door greeter, only better. This greeter doesn't just wish you well; it even knows the news and keeps tabs on your e-mail box. Not even Californians have it this good.

Figure 5-1 shows the Welcome window on an average day. It's a pretty straightforward affair with three different areas: navigation buttons, highlighted services, and anchor services.

  • Clustered on the left side of the window are the navigation buttons, your shortcuts to the rest of America Online.

    • The mailbox button tells you whether you have mail or not. Clicking this button either opens your mailbox or sends you on a jaunt to the Mail Center (depending on whether you have unopened e-mail).

    • Channels displays the Channels window (discussed in the section entitled "The Channels window: Road map, cheerleader, and commentator rolled into one").

    • Finally, the People Connection drops you into a chat room (nothing like a grand entrance, eh?).

  • Along the bottom center of the window are brief descriptions of the highlighted services, along with little buttons that take you to each one. These entries change all the time, so don't worry if your screen doesn't show exactly the same items as Figure 5-1.

  • Cascading through the upper center and right side of the window are the anchor services, places that send you hither and thither on your quest for hot AOL happenings, the weather forecast, the leading news stories. The remaining anchor services (What's New, Parental Controls, Member Services, and others) are on the right.

For a special treat, click the America Online logo in the upper-left corner of the Welcome window. Who knows what might happen? (Okay, so it really leads to the Daily Delights area, but keep it to yourself. We don't want everyone to know.)

In Windows, you can't make the Welcome window go away -- ever. The best you can do is minimize it, so instead of being an annoying window in the middle of the screen, it's only an annoying icon cowering in the corner. To do this in Windows 3.x, click the down arrow button on the right side of the window's title bar (the bar that says Welcome and your screen name). The window pops down to the lower-left corner of the screen, never to bother you again. In Windows 95, click the minimize button (the left-most of the three little buttons at the right end of the title bar) to accomplish the same thing.

The Channels window: Road map, cheerleader, and commentator rolled into one

If you're looking for the right place to start your online expedition, it just doesn't get any better than the Channels window, shown in Figure 5-2 with the AOL Today channel open and alive. From here, any of America Online's 19 channels is a quick jump away.

Occupying the left side of the window are the channel buttons, offering single-click connections to the 19 content channels in America Online. Each button displays the menu of services available in that channel area. In another new development, the Channels window in the America Online 4.0 software includes not only the channel buttons, but also a big space where the channel window itself shines through.

To make things ever more consistent and easier to understand, the 19 channels look significantly more alike than ever before. Each channel window includes buttons for its various departments, plus some links to featured areas within the channel. The featured area buttons change periodically, but unless something groundbreaking happens, the departments remain the same.

In the lower-right corner of the channels window is the keyword for this particular area. See the sidebar "Psst -- what's the keyword?" later in this chapter for more about these useful little thingies.

Because I have your attention, here are a few other things you should know about handling the channels before I let you go:

  • Getting back to the Channels window is never hard. Just click the Channels button on the Toolbar, select the channel you want to see, and {poof!} you're there.

  • You can also get to the Channels window from the Welcome window, thanks to the cleverly named Channels window button (but you probably knew that already).

  • If your Channels window has a bunch of colorful buttons strewn all over it instead of the high-tech look shown in Figure 5-2, then you're not using the newest software. Refer to Chapter 1 for more about the whole software thing and how to get the latest version.

To pick up a lot of detailed information about what each channel contains, flip to AOL Channels For Dummies -- a special book-within-a-book in the gray-bordered pages near the back of this book.

Individual content windows: The heart of America Online

The digital foot soldiers of America Online are the individual content areas. Hundreds, if not thousands, of them are out there, and each one has its own unique interface window. Some of the windows have lots of artwork and feature buttons (like Figure 5-3). Others are plain to the point of being utilitarian (see Figure 5-4 for a to-the-point example). Both do basically the same things, except the fancy ones do it with more panache.

Psst -- what's the keyword?

Almost every service in America Online has a keyword. It's like a magic carpet that whisks you wherever you wish to go. Using keywords saves you time, and that saves you money.

To use a keyword, press Ctrl+K in Windows or Command key+K on a Macintosh. Doing so brings up the Keyword dialog box. Type the keyword and then click OK. If everything is working as it should, you'll immediately jump to that keyword's window.

Jot down the keywords for your favorite services on the Cheat Sheet in the front of this book and then use that list as a memory jogger or to plan your online sessions.

A fancy service window always contains some feature and function buttons. These graphic buttons lead you to special parts of the service, help you search the service's archives, or otherwise do something truly fun for you. Read the button descriptions carefully -- don't rely too much on the picture to tell you what the button does.

Somewhere on the window (sorry I can't be more specific -- it migrates all over the place) is the service's keyword. If you're not familiar with keywords, you should be. Look in the sidebar entitled "Psst -- what's the keyword?" for more information.

Last on the tour is the list of service areas -- see Table 5-1. Most of the time, both kinds of content windows contain this list, but not always (fancy content areas sometimes replace the list with a series of buttons). The list is in whatever order the service feels like using (in other words, don't bank on things coming up in alphabetical order). To get into an area on the list, double-click its entry.

Don't expect every service to look just like every other service. Some are very plain; others are quite fancy. Just relax and go with the flow -- you're doing fine.

Table 5-1 Service Areas

Name Meaning
File Folder Leads to an individual service window, which in turn contains still more icons.
Chat Takes you into a conference chat room within a content area.
Document Shows a document explaining something about the service.
Open Book Displays a searchable database (mostly found in the various Reference sections).
Disks Opens a library of downloadable software.
Globe Usually points to an item on the World Wide Web.
Bulletin Board Opens up a window of discussion boards.
Special Might be just about anything -- it defies description.

Organizing the Places of Your Heart

There's a new button in town -- and it's appearing on a Toolbar near you. Say hello to Favorites and its sidekick, the Favorite Places window -- both of them riding hard to organize the online areas you know and love.

The Favorite Places system won't bring any law into your digital life (hopefully Congress won't either), but it promises a lot of order. Instead of having just ten favorite places socked away in your My Shortcuts menu (see Chapter 22 for the details about that), you can store as many favorites as you want! Is that just too cool or what?

Figure 5-5 shows a hard-working Favorite Places window in action. The heart entries link to services within America Online or to Web pages and gophers on the Internet. For instance, the item highlighted in Figure 5-5 is the Card Collecting forum on America Online. The entry right below it, Intertext, is a Web page. Manila folders (such as Support Areas, Gaming, and Fun Spots) apply some order to the impending chaos.

Figure 5-5 also shows a new feature of the America Online 4.0 software: The Favorite Places menu item list that automatically appears underneath the Favorites button on the Toolbar. When you add an online area to your Favorite Places, it automatically appears in both the Favorite Places window and the menu list under the Favorites Toolbar button. (Life's getting better all the time, isn't it?) Items in both places work the same way, so I end up in the Collectable Cards forum whether I double-click its heart entry in the Favorite Places window or just select it from the Favorites drop-down menu.

Here are a couple other random musings about the Favorite Places system that wandered out of my brain at the last moment:

  • To use the new Favorite Places system, you must have Version 2.5 or later of the America Online access software for Windows. Any older America Online software just isn't this cool.

  • Even though all the items in your Favorite Places window are also displayed in the Favorites drop-down menu, you can make changes to the entries only through the Favorite Places window. The Favorites drop-down menu notices the changes on its own, so don't worry about that.

  • You're not limited to the folders shown in Figure 5-5. I created those myself to meet my exceedingly peculiar needs. You have the freedom -- yes, even the right -- to create equally peculiar folders for yourself.

Using folders in the Favorite Places window

I almost forgot to mention this, but luckily two of my brain cells, spurred into action by the caloric heat of a half-digested Oreo, reminded me to mention that double-clicking is the key to using the Favorite Places window:

  • To open a folder, double-click it.

  • To close the folder when you're done with it, double-click the folder again.

  • To take off for a favorite place, double-click it.

Flip back into single-clicking mode when using the drop-down menu under the Favorites Toolbar. Because it's a menu and not a list of items in a window, you single-click to select destinations there.

Adding a favorite place

Including a new favorite place is a cinch. You can do so in two ways: the Easy Way and the Other Way. This section tells you how to handle them both.

The Easy Way is for areas inside America Online or Internet-based Web pages and gophers that you've browsed your way into. Here are the steps:

  1. Display an area that you're fond of, either inside America Online or on the Internet.

  2. Click the heart-on-a-document icon in the window's upper-right corner.

    A little dialog box appears (see Figure 5-6), demanding to know what you intend to do with the link to this online area.

    Not every window in America Online has one of those cute little heart document icons. It's unfortunate, but true. If the window you're looking at doesn't have one, you can't add it to the Favorite Places list.

  3. In the little You have selected a Favorite Place dialog box, click Add to Favorites to include an entry for this online area in your Favorite Places list.

    Your new entry takes up residence at either the top or the bottom of both the Favorite Places window and the drop-down menu under Favorites, just like Figure 5-7 shows. (Which end of the list it lands on seems to depend entirely on how your America Online software feels at the moment. Strange, isn't it?)

    If you click Insert in Instant Message, a new Instant Message window appears, complete with a ready-to-use link to this favorite place. Clicking Insert in Mail does much the same thing, except that a blank e-mail message pops up, with the link in the body and a friendly Check this out notice in the Subject line.

Use the Other Way when someone dashes up and says, "I just found the neatest Web page -- you've gotta check it out!" The Other Way assumes that you have the address of a Web page and want to include it manually in your Favorite Places. Here's how it's done:

  1. Select Favorites-->Favorite Places from the Toolbar.

    The Favorite Places window appears.

  2. Click the folder in which you want to store the new item.

    If you don't know where to put the item, click the Favorite Places folder at the top of the window. That's as good a place as any -- and you can always move the entry somewhere else later.

  3. Click New at the bottom of the Favorite Places window.

    The Add New Folder/Favorite Place dialog box (designed by the Use No Articles Programming Team) appears.

  4. Type a name for this entry in the Enter the Place's Description box, press Tab, and then type the entry's address in the Enter the Internet Address box.

    Figure 5-8 displays a finished entry, ready to be saved for posterity.

  5. Click OK to add the entry to your Favorite Places window.

Adding a folder

Adding all kinds of favorite places to your system is great, but you need some organization to keep everything in order. That's why those clever America Online programmers included folders.

Folders can live in the Favorite Places area or inside other folders (see Figure 5-9). Either way, creating a folder is easy. Here's how (assuming that you already have the Favorite Places window open):

  1. Click the Favorite Places button on the Toolbar.

    The Favorite Places window pops to attention.

  2. Click the Favorite Places folder at the top of the window.

    The Favorite Places folder is highlighted (this is a good sign).

  3. Click the New button.

    The Add New Folder/Favorite Place dialog box appears on your screen (yet another good sign).

  4. Click the New Folder radio button.

    The dialog box suddenly shrinks to half its previous size, shedding those unwanted pounds and inches in no time at all.

  5. Click in the box under Enter the New Folder's Name, then type the name of your new folder. Click OK when you're done (see Figure 5-10).

    Your new folder appears at the bottom of the Favorite Places list.

  6. Move the folder wherever you want it in the list.

    If you're not sure how to move the folder, look in the next section.

Moving folders and favorite places

Creating folders and favorite places is one thing, but organizing them is another. The little buggers tend to land wherever the America Online software feels like putting them. Moving them around is easy, though, once you get the hang of it.

The technique is the same for both folders and favorite places. After you open the Favorite Places window, here's what to do:

  1. Decide which item you want to move and where it's headed.

  2. Put the mouse pointer on the chosen item, and then press and hold the mouse button.

    The technical term for this maneuver is click and drag, but there's no reason to mention it, so I won't.

  3. While holding the mouse button down, move the item to its destination (see Figure 5-11) and then release the mouse button.

    The item settles down, safe and sound in its new home (see Figure 5-12).

Modifying folders and favorite places

There comes a point in every life when it's time to make some changes. When that time in the life of your Favorite Places window arrives, have no fear. Although change is never fun, at least it's easy in the Favorite Places window. Open the Favorite Places window and then follow these steps:

  1. Click the folder or favorite place and then click Edit.

    For a folder, the Rename dialog box appears. For a favorite place, the description and Internet address dialog box appears.

  2. Make your changes (usually to the name of the item) and then click OK.

    If you change your mind and don't want to make any changes, double-click in the upper-left corner of the box.

Deleting folders and favorite places

Favorite Places entries, like other impetuous flashes in the dark sky of fading youth, have a limited life span. When it's time to delete one, just do the deed and go on as best you can. Solemnly open the Favorite Places window and then morosely proceed through the following:

  1. Click the item you want to delete.

  2. Click Delete and then OK in the pop-up dialog box.

The entry is no more. Remember, ask not for whom the Delete button clicks -- it clicks for thy once-favorite place.

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