AOL today released details of its upcoming internet access software. AOL 9.0 Optimised, the company states, will offer enhanced mail and security features, a web accelerator and 3D animated buddy icons among other bells and whistles geared at personalisation and entertainment.

The new software, which will be made available to existing AOL members towards the end of the year, represents the third upgrade AOL has made to its service in the last 10 months. The program will be more widely distributed in October, an AOL representative said.

The focus of AOL 9.0 Optimised is its new IM (instant messaging) capabilities such as the 3D animated friend icons, dubbed SuperBuddy icons.

"We want to deliver something fun and interesting to our members," says AOL spokeswoman Anne Bentley.

AOL will offer 50 original icons at launch, some of which animate common chat phrases by turning them into characters. The expression ?LOL? — for laugh out loud — may be displayed as a comical character when a user types those letters, for example.

The new IM capabilities will allow users to conduct real-time voice conversations as well as share digital photos and webcam clips. The company is also offering IM Bots that serve up stock quotes, news, movie times and other information.

AOL's emphasis on IM comes as the company released a report saying that 76 percent of surveyed web users use an IM application and that six out of 10 respondents personalise the application with elements such as icons, wallpaper and sounds.

Besides new IM facilities, AOL 9.0 also includes enhanced email features such as built-in spam filters, added parental controls and management tools that lets members view recently received mail at a glance or view all of their messages from one place.

In addition, the company says, 9.0 Optimised users can permanently store 20MB of mail on AOL servers and will benefit from free web accelerator technology for speedier surfing. AOL 9.0 will also extend the company's family-focused services, offering a parentally controlled account that can give kids an online allowance.

For a sneak peek of the service go to