AOL Cuts Jobs While Offering Free Storage

It seems like only yesterday that AOL decided to throw open its doors to broadband users, offering free email and Web services to anyone who could bring their own bandwidth to AOL’s doorstep. AOL plans to up the ante again beginning in September, when it plans to offer up to 5 GB of free personal data storage on its servers to attract users to its service. The service will be available to any AOL or AIM user without upload or download charges.

AOL acquired online storage firm XDrive precisely one year ago. According to AOL, users will be able to access their online storage areas from any PC or mobile device with a Web connection, and share selected items with other users by controlling permissions on individual files or directories. AOL’s offering the service as a way for users to secure important data from loss in the event of theft, disaster, or simple failure—of course, all this assumes users are willing to trust AOL with their personal data in the first place.

“People are accumulating personal digital assets at a fast pace, especially in areas like digital photos and videos,” said John McKinley, president of AOL Digital Services. “Yet our in-home research shows that few people are taking steps to protect their digital memories from accidental loss or destruction. By offering consumers the combination of 5 GB of free secure online storage and Xdrive’s powerful automated backup and online sharing tools, AOL is giving people a simple, effective and free way to protect their digital memories and have access to them anywhere they go.”

Xdrive offers a drag-and-drop interface between a user’s local storage and online storage and the capability to schedule automated backups; the service can also automatically upload email attachments.

In the meantime, reports are surfacing that AOL’s transition to free services mean the company may be shedding up to a quarter of its 20,000-person workforce. For instance, AOL is reportedly looking to sell its European Internet operations entirely, and transitioning to free services means AOL will be able to reduce its support staff (since support will only be available to paid subscribers). The company also (finally!) plans to stop distributing its software via trail disc in magazines and postal mail.

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