I recently received this email:
I was sitting here yesterday talking with a friend and remembering our own good ole days when Modal Tools by Tau got brought up. We talked about what a great program it was, but how impossible it is find anymore. i stumbled across your archive site and got a small thrill thinking that aol-files.com was actually in existance still/again. i quickly realized it was archived but had to keep reading for nostalgia.
I eventually came to a part that said “if you remember aol-files.com send me an email”. So, heres that email and a shout. And, a small request i hope you might be able to help with. While we may have stopped the childish games, Modal Tool 2.0 still has simple uses and we have been hoping we could find a copy. If you happen to still posess that, it would be great if you could email it to me or just link me to it somewhere. I would greatly appreciate it. And hey, thanks for giving us (once upon a time) aspiring aol hackers neat stuff to play with back in the day.
There was a certain type of window on AOL called a Modal or specifically, “_AOL_Modal”. They looked like this:
Whenever an AOL Modal popped up you had to act on it before you could do anything else with the AOL client. Most windows in the AOL class hierarchy fell under the “AOL Frame25” class, which was basically the entire AOL client. Modal’s were a different breed. They were a separate entity and they could not be moved, resized, or hidden. This is from a tutorial I wrote back in the day on AOL Class Names:
AOL Class Hierarchy circa 2001
Over time people figured out that you could do some interesting things with some of the modal windows.
For example, AOL did not charge you for the time you spent creating a new screen name. They simply disabled the rest of the AOL features until you were out of the area designated for coming up with new names. For people who had unlimited usage billing plans, this didn’t really matter. But at the time (1998ish), a lot of people still paid per hour. Someone figured out that if you simply hid the AOL Modal that was open when you were creating a new screen name, AOL still through you were in the create screen name area but you could still use AOL like normal.
Clever, huh? I seem to recall that AOL sued the guy who popularized this method of avoiding charges, but that may have just been a rumor.
Modal Tool was a small program written in Visual Basic that made it easier for people to figure out how to do things like that. It let you explore the contents of AOL Modals (they often had hidden controls), disable them, hide them, etc. I think it was a fairly widespread tool within the AOL hacker community at the time.
Here’s what it looked like:
Not sure if it works on newer versions of AOL (the last time I used it was around 2001), but you’re welcome to download it if you want to play around with it: Download Now.
PS – If you’re looking for a generic program that lets you explore the contents of any window (not just AOL Modals), I highly recommend Winspector.