COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ CompuServe Inc. is moving away from the customized operation of its online service by adapting to the design of the World Wide Web, the company said today.

While other online services have taken similar steps, CompuServe is the largest to shift its software to conform with the fast-growing Web portion of the Internet. CompuServe is the No. 2 online company with 4 million subscribers.

The company will not stop providing information and online access through its existing software. However, future development will be on software that is tightly integrated with the Web, executives said.

``We are not abandoning the CompuServe Information Service,'' Denny Matteucci, president of online services, said in a telephone news conference. ``We are evolving it to use the dominant technology in use today.''

Matteucci noted CompuServe has developed its own software for 17 years.

``We will allow others to provide the heavy lifting in a more cost-effective manner,'' he said.

The company will be able to spend more of its development time and money on electronic commerce and online advertising, said company president Bob Massey.

CompuServe has begun rewriting its existing services in the hypertext markup language, or HTML, that allows a person to click from one page of information to another even though the information may reside on different computers.

CompuServe users will only need one type of software and Internet provider to access both the online service and the Web, said Robert L. Smith Jr., executive director of Interactive Services Association in Silver Spring, Md., an umbrella group that includes online service providers.

Prodigy Services Co. and the Microsoft Network have already started shifting to a Web-based system. America Online, the No. 1 service, has yet to announce any such moves, although it recently stopped developing a Web browser of its own to offer those of Microsoft Corp. and Netscape Communications Corp.

``American Online will be going down this direction in the future,'' said Stephen Auditore, president of Zona Research Inc. in Redwood City, Calif.