As part of AOL's push to begin giving away most of its services, the Internet company will offer a free online storage bin that will let people back up their photos, music and other important files.

The announcement Thursday of 5 gigabytes of free storage, which AOL says is good for some 1,250 songs or 2,000 photos, represents AOL's latest effort to draw visitors to its ad-supported sites, now that it wants to be less reliant on revenues from its Internet access business.

"People are accumulating personal digital assets at a rapid rate, especially in categories like digital photos and videos,"said John McKinley, president of AOL Digital Services. He said the service would let people"protect their digital memories and have access to them anywhere they go."

Users can also share files with friends.

AOL is beating its rivals with the free storage service, which is possible because of the dramatic drop in the cost of disk drives.

Although it's technically possible now for users to store files via e-mail services _ Lycos Inc. offers 3 gigabytes of space in its e-mail, and Google Inc.'s GMail is close _ it's much easier to do so with a dedicated storage offering. Users can install software to drag and drop files as if it were another hard drive or make the transfer over a Web-based interface.

AOL's service will be run by Xdrive Inc., which AOL bought last year.

Xdrive had been charging $10 a month for 5 gigabytes of storage, a plan that will soon be discontinued. Instead, Xdrive will focus on marketing a 50-gigabyte service, pricing for which has not yet been announced.

AOL is also offering 50 gigabytes to customers who hang on and pay $26 a month for dial-up Internet access. It's part of the huge shift AOL announced Wednesday to give away e-mail accounts and software previously reserved for paying customers, a move likely to acceleratea decline in access subscriptions but boost advertising dollars.

The company said Thursday it expects to drop as many as 5,000 employees as it seeks more than $1 billion in savings from marketing, network and other costs.

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