The online-advertising market is beginning to rebound, and profits are on the rise at Yahoo and MSN. Meanwhile, things keep getting worse and worse at AOL. Ad sales were down 50% in the third quarter compared to a year ago, and analysts expect sales to be down 33% in the fourth quarter. As if that wasn’t bad enough, AOL is also trying to cope with falling subscriber numbers, federal investigations into its accounting practices, and corporate infighting with parent Time Warner.

I’m intrigued to see the new version of the AOL software, AOL 9.0, touted by its executives as one of the elements in the company’s turnaround. My experience with AOL 9.0 has been horrible so far – some of my clients have installed it and seen everything from bugs to crashes to massive slowdowns affecting their entire computer. I looked over someone’s shoulder yesterday as she brought up her AOL mail, composed a new message, and then looked in vain for a “Send” button – which was nowhere in sight. Cancel, retry, restart – no way to send an e-mail message. (Eventually we maximized the message window by wildly clicking at random all over the screen and the “Send” button reappeared.)

I haven’t seen a lot of online buzz about problems with AOL 9.0, so maybe these are isolated incidents and not a continuation of AOL’s long tradition of releasing incredibly buggy software.

Maybe.