OpenRide and open container laws
If America Online is going to matter as a free service, it's going to have to come up with some compelling features, and the debut of OpenRide is a bold step in the right direction. The software application is ambitious. It aims to be a jack-of-all-trades, allowing users to browse the Internet, check email, chat, search, and scour for media files, using several dynamically resized panes on the same page.

Is it perfect? No. If you're not the multitasking type, the application may seem pointlessly cluttered. Some of the seemingly revolutionary features, like tabbed browser windows on the same page, are pretty commonplace, even appearing in the latest version of Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer.

However, you can't blame AOL for trying. Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) online arm has been suffering through quarterly subscriber defections for a few years now. If it's going to play a part in the free realm of cyberspace, it has to do better than email and video portals that are merely inferior duplicates of more popular alternatives. OpenRide addresses the need to lead the way instead of simply following the herd.

Good luck with that, AOL. No panes, no gain.

Mailing it in
It's not just AOL that is stirring the kettle of change. Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) is in the process of rolling out a new beta version of its popular email interface and it's even opening up its code to inspire independent development.

I bit the bait and switched to the beta version of Yahoo!; my impressions are mixed. It is clearly trying to channel Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) Gmail. I can appreciate the more modern look and the AJAX-inspired updates. The enhanced features are nice, even if they took some getting used to. Wow, the lengths that companies are going to for the sake of giving something away. You've got to love online advertising as a subsidizer. What's next? A restaurant that will feed you for free if you sit through scrolling menu ads?

Until next week, I remain,

Rick Munarriz

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

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz recommends windshield wiper fluid when trying to look back. Rick is part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. He does own not own shares in any of the companies in this story. The Fool has a disclosure policy.