EarthLink Wednesday announced the launch of the latest version of its Pop-Up Blocker, equipped with a feature that combats the growing number of rich media ads on the Internet.This is a welcome development for Internet users at a time when Web users express growing irritation with intrusive pop-up ads, said Claudia Farrell, a spokeswoman for the Federal Trade Commission.The new version of Pop-Up Blocker gives the user more control over how the software treats pop-ups, according to Jerry Grasso, director of corporate communications at the ISP in Atlanta.Basically, two things were changed in the new version, he said."Along with blocking animated ads, Pop-Up Blocker enables subscribers to choose between two levels of pop-up blocking. By selecting the 'Full' option, subscribers can continue to stop all pop-ups. The new 'Normal' option allows users to enable pop-up windows on all 'clicked' hyperlinks like calendars or charts, and conduct business on secure Web sites, such as online banking or e-commerce transactions, while still continuing to block superfluous pop-up ads", Grasso said.The possible market edge the launch of Pop-Up Blocker will give EarthLink in the highly competitive global ISP market is not yet certain. According to Grasso, the launch of the first version of the pop-up offering in August 2002 coincided with an increase in the subscriber base of EarthLink from 4.7 million to 5 million, which may have been related to the launch.About 1.23 million of EarthLink's 5 million subscribers have downloaded and used the older version. Grasso believes all these subscribers and others will subscribe to the newer version.EarthLink is not doing badly in the ISP industry, according to David Card, an analyst at Jupiter Research. However, remaining competitive means offering solutions ahead of others in the same business, he added.Card is not sure whether this new offering will enhance EarthLink's competitive edge against bigger ISPs. There is nothing new about an ISP offering pop-up ads blocking services, Card said. Other ISPs, such as AOL Time Warner, offer similar services. However, with or without the blocking of pop-up ads, EarthLink is a force to be reckoned with in the market, especially in cable broadband services."EarthLink is traditionally known for good customer after-sales services and support," Card said.EarthLink's Grasso acknowledged that AOL launched a similar service on March 12 this year. There are quite a number of other smaller companies that offer pop-up ad blocking software at a price. The edge EarthLink has over them all is being the first ISP to provide free e-mail "challenge-response services" to customers, according to Grasso. A challenge-response service is a spam-blocking technique that guarantees a 100% spam-free e-mail experience, if the "block spam" option is enabled.