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 2600video 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.
In 1983 the company nearly went bankrupt, and a video game specialist named Steve Case ascended to the position of CEO.
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 October1989, Quantum launched its AOL service for Apple II and Macintosh computers, and in February1991 AOL for DOS was opened. In October1991, 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 August2001 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. Others view AOL disks as valuable collectible items due to the vast number of CD-ROM design variations released by the company.
In the late 1990s and into the early 2000s, AOL began purchasing and supporting many popular software projects and companies. Below are some of AOL's purchases:
In March 2004, with the merger widely regarded as having been an expensive failure for the new joint company, it was disclosed that Time Warner had held discussions with Microsoft concerning a possible takeover of the ailing AOL division. According to the New York Post, a possible deal would include Microsoft paying cash plus the assumption of debt to acquire AOL, as well as a possible investment by Microsoft in Time Warner Cable. Neither company has publicly confirmed the talks, but the newspaper reports that there are thought to be few obstacles in the way of a Microsoft takeover of AOL. (NY Post, March 19, 2004) Such articles, however, frequently pop up in the Media, with only intermittent veracity.