Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL is still hard at work trying to lure Internet users back to its service, which is now free of charge. Its newest step in that direction is the launch of software called OpenRide.

OpenRide's features include separating one browser window into four sections, reflecting AOL's most popular services -- instant messaging, mail, search, and a media center, which will allow users to consume videos, music, and photos. Also interesting is that users will be able to access email not only from AOL, but also from other Web-based email providers like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO). That is indeed a bit more openness than AOL users are accustomed to, considering its old walled-in community that probably would have preferred that people ignore those other guys.

As is consistent with AOL's recent initiatives, OpenRide will be free. While it is built for people with broadband connections, it will also work with dial-up Internet access as well.

A Wall Street Journal article pointed out that the service is meant to ease activities for today's Internet users, who are well accustomed to multitasking. (Of course, the fact that most of us do work, check email, watch videos, and IM friends pretty much simultaneously isn't rocket science -- it's been going on for years now.) Along those lines, the WSJ consulted a Jupiter Research analyst, who admitted it's a cool design but downplayed the significance, stating that most Internet users are used to having several windows open at once and therefore, AOL's revamp isn't all that much of a draw. I tend to agree.

The reason why any change AOL makes is big news is because AOL's troubles have been well known over the years, as it failed to respond adequately to changes in Internet habits and needs and started bleeding subscribers as they fled to broadband providers. AOL continues to try to make itself relevant on the Internet again, as so many Internet users have so many options for entertainment, content, and services.

I'd also argue that AOL and Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) often face similar issues when it comes to the wilds of the Web -- both seem to end up chasing other popular Internet services after others have pioneered their use, taking on companies that have already carved a leadership niche. It's been a long time since AOL was the pioneer in a new way of using the Web -- its having pioneered the use of instant messaging with AIM springs to mind.

I took a look at AOL in one installment of our Fool on the Street series recently. AOL has said that so far, its attempts to lure Internet users through free services have been very successful, but it also admitted that it's still early in the game. I subsequently wondered if its preliminary success has been more about Web surfers' curiosity about what AOL is bringing to the table, as opposed to a triumph that will make AOL a popular, sticky hangout again.

Given the problems AOL has had in foreseeing new trends on the Internet in recent years, it's always a question as to whether the company might still be looking in the rearview mirror instead. And let's face it, gazing in the rearview mirror doesn't sound too appealing when it comes to hitching a ride, flashy and open as it may be.

For more on AOL, see the following Foolish commentary:

Time Warner and Yahoo! are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.