Case: AOL in your kitchen

In his Internet World keynote, AOL's CEO launches newest Netscape browser, announces Gateway deal for devices with customised online service

Company CEO Steve Case rolled out two major announcements in his Internet World keynote here Wednesday morning: the official launch of the long-awaited Version 6.0 of the Netscape browser, powered on the open-source Gecko engine, and a deal with Gateway to develop countertop devices that offer "instant access" to a customised version of the AOL service.

Case, dressed for the occasion in a cow-decorated tie and the Netscape jacket given to him by Jim Barksdale, said the announcements indicate that "Netscape is back."

AOL is kicking off the browser launch with a new ad campaign that will include television, print and cable ads as part of what officials called "the most intensive campaign" the company has ever conducted.

The Gateway devices, the first of which should be available by the holiday season, will use the Linux operating system, another open-source technology. Using the Gecko browser engine, they will allow consumers to go online using "Instant AOL" a faster version of the company's proprietary service.

The devices do not have set prices yet, but officials said Wednesday that they expect them to retail for less than $500.

The first device available will be a kitchen-top device consisting of a wireless keyboard and a flat-panel monitor that can sit on a counter like a standard monitor, or be mounted on top of a counter or underneath a cupboard like a microwave.

A wireless pad, available next year, will connect to the Internet through a base unit, but will do consumers can move around their homes with it. It will feature a camera, touch-screen and speakers.

A third device, designed to be a low-cost access system, looks something like a television, and indeed, may later have television reception capabilities. It will use a CRT monitor instead of LCD.

Gateway is considering other devices in the future, officials said.

"Right now, we have AOL as our partner. But as we go into the future, there may be (other vertical) applications," said Peter Ashkin, chief technology officer at Gateway.

AOL's expanding reach

The new devices are part of AOL's "AOL Anywhere" program, which is designed to ensure that consumers are never separated from the Internet or the company's services.

"We think (consumers) are going to have their PCs as a hub, and a whole bunch of connected devices operating off of these hubs," said Barry Schuler, president of AOL's Interactive Services Unit.

While the new Gateway devices will use AOL and Gecko, they will not use the new version of the Netscape browser, since AOL is still bound to a contract with Microsoft Corp. to feature that company's Internet Explorer browser.

The new browser, which launched in a preview version Wednesday, has a series of new features that the company claims will make it more appealing to consumers, including faster page rendering, and a slimmer code.

It also includes a "My Sidebar" feature that acts as a mini-browser, with special content delivered from third-parties including CNN, Travelocity, and the New York Times.

The new browser will also allow users to customise the look and feel of the browser using themes or skins. The skins will not be available until a later version of the browser is released, but Netscape officials showed off a few that have been developed by the open-source Mozilla community, including one that mimics Microsoft's IE browser.

New browser features

The new browser also includes a Netscape version of AOL's Instant Messenger program, which is not part of the open-source release.

The Netscape version is interoperable with AIM, and users of either product will be able to view their buddy lists from within the Sidebar feature. Instant messaging is also incorporated into the mail program, which allows users to access multiple email accounts, including AOL mail.

A password feature in Netscape 6 allows users to pre-save personal data and gives sites access to that information on a case-by-case basis. The feature can also be used like a wallet, storing address and credit card data.

A new Cookie Manager lets users inspect their cookie files and accept cookies from sites on a case-by-case basis.

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