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America Online
If you're in the mood for fun, try traveling back in time to 1985 and talking to people on Wall Street about a tiny company called Quantum Computer Services, in Vienna, Virginia.

Explain that this unknown company, which presently has a grand total of 24 subscribers to an unproven online service called Q-Link and a scruffy CEO called Steve who likes to wear Hawaiian shirts, will become one of the most successful companies in history.

...Explain that this unknown company will take on almost every player in American business and win, and that it will eventually merge with the largest media group in the world and become probably the most important company in the global economy.

Be prepared to be patient...

...and while you're there, remember to buy yourself some of the company's stock.

No matter which side you're on in the controversy surrounding this Internet giant, it's impossible to deny the importance of the role the company has played in speeding the Net's development.

An aggressive strategy which has consistently placed expansion and survival ahead of all else has made America Online one of the most successful, if not the most popular, service providers in the industry.

Critics like to point out that among the major Isps, AOL has the highest churn rate, the industry term for the rate at which customers drop an access provider.

Fans point out that AOL has many things other Service Providers can only dream about - vibrant community areas, excellent content, a huge number of devoted followers and plenty of access numbers both around the country and overseas.

It's unclear what the future will hold following AOL's merger with media giant Time-Warner.

Skeptics argue that the company has fatally overextended itself in a blunder of Napoleonic proportions, committing to more areas than it can possibly deal with.

AOL Chairman Steve Case has dealt with this kind of criticism before.

He's won every time.

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