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Expressing Yourself in IMs, Desktops, and Toolbars

For a long time, your America Online software looked like everybody else's America Online software. Your instant messages looked the same, and your toolbars looked the same. It was a vast reservoir of sameness. Then, one of the AOL programmers decided to let us, the customers, add our own buttons to the toolbar. That crack of individuality spread through the dam of software sameness, letting personalization explode in the new AOL 9.0 software. Customizations abound in here, and always under the software's helpful guidance (and sometimes, a bit of its over-protective paternalism).

AOL 9.0 lets you mess around with the color schemes for the interface (the desktop and toolbar). It also gives you lots of leeway in what your Instant Message windows look and sound like. Many of these customizations carry over to other areas of the online experience, too. For instance, the background image for your instant messages also decorates the window when someone looks at your member profile.

In a bold stroke of usability, all of this customizable goodness lives in one area of your software: keyword My Expressions. A pair of tabs at the top of the window let you switch between the Personality side (which governs your instant messages) and the Environment (including the desktop, toolbar, and the three main AOL sounds — Welcome, You've Got Mail, and Goodbye). The window always starts on the Personality page, but you can switch to Environment at any time by clicking its tab.

On the Personality side of the window, you can put your unique fingerprints on any of these areas:

  • Buddy Icons: Your Buddy Icon appears on instant messages, in your member profile, and next to your name in the Buddy List. You can select standard icons (just a picture), animate icons, or the new SuperBuddy Icons, which go through little animated tricks depending on what you type in your messages.
  • Buddy Wallpaper: This image backs up your instant messages and also appears behind your member profile and as a border around any chat rooms you create.
  • Buddy Sound: Pick something to replace the standard duh-di-ling instant message chime. Your Buddy Sound also plays automatically when you enter a chat room.
  • Smileys: Want something a little different than the standard yellow smileys? This setting puts a whole army of smileys at your command. Pick some dice-shaped smileys, music note smileys, snowman smileys, or even baby-face smileys. Many of the smileys go through little animations in the new America Online software, too. (Isn't that cute?)

To change one of the options, click the appropriate Change link (such as Change Buddy Icon, for instance). A new window appears, offering a smorgasbord of options, and the requisite Save, Apply, and Close buttons. Saveremembers your changes, Applysaves your change, but leaves the window open so you can continue looking for other nifty options. Each area also includes a Reset link that takes everything back to the standard default values

Clicking the Environment tab takes you to the Desktop and AOL Sounds options. Here, you can:

  • Put a different graphic on your AOL Desktop, and choose a color scheme for your software's toolbar. The toolbar color options live behind the Choose My Own Toolbar link inside the Desktops page. (For some reason, toolbars don't quality for their own separate entry in the Environment. Go figure.)
  • Tired of the same person speaking every time you begin and end your America Online sessions? Substitute your favorite celebrity's voice instead! Click the Change AOL Sounds link, and then pick from the rather amazing collection of celebrity voices, including Cher, David Letterman, and even Dr. Evil. Preview each celebrity's vocalizations by clicking his or her link, and then clicking the Listen buttons next to each of the three sounds. When you find one that you like, click the Download button for that sound. Reset your sounds to the default guy with the Reset link in the AOL Sounds section on the My Expressions page.

For a quick and complete collection of matching expression settings, try one of the 1-Click Themes at keyword 1-Click Themes. Each of these includes a Buddy Icon, Buddy Wallpaper, a Buddy Sound, Smileys, and an appropriate Desktop color. Tell the world you're happy or sad, that you love movies or marine life, or whatever else you want to convey. The 1-Click Themes make a nice solution to those moments when you want something different, but don't feel like going item-by-item to make it happen.

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