AOL makes its Case for access

Handheld Internet devices introduced at confab

When America Online and Time Warner announced their intention to merge earlier this year, some worried that the new partnership would result in a media conglom that would shut out other entertainment providers from AOL’s base of more than 21 million customers.

During the opening keynote at the Spring Internet World confab in Los Angeles on Wednesday, AOL chairman and CEO Steve Case tried to put those fears to rest.

“As Duke Ellington said, there’s two kinds of music: good music and other stuff,” Case said. “That’s the way it is for content on the Internet. We will distribute content from others as well as our own.”

High-speed access

Case reiterated that Internet service providers besides AOL will have access to the high-speed Internet lines owned by Time Warner.

“A diversity of voice has always been the Internet’s greatest strength,” he said.

But make no mistake, being part of the AOL Time Warner family certainly does have its privileges. Case unveiled the latest version of the AOL subsidiary Netscape’s Web browser and several devices that will make it possible for AOL customers to access the Internet from anywhere in their house.

“We want AOL Time Warner to be a global media and communication company for the Internet century,” Case said. “Just as the television has evolved from a single unit in the living room to the point where there are televisions around the house, we want to move from one computer and see interactive devices all over the house.”

Handheld Internet

The devices include a portable screen and wireless keyboard that can be attached to counters and serve as a touchpad to access the Web; a tablet that uses wireless technology much like a handheld phone and allows AOL users to access the Internet from anywhere in their house; and a desktop computer that resembles Apple’s iMac and is intended mainly for Internet use instead of data storage.

The devices, manufactured by Gateway, will be available for sale later this year. Precise retail prices have not been determined yet, although execs said they would come in at around $500.

During a demonstration of Netscape 6, it was announced that several companies have agreed to provide content and custom-izable “skins” for the browser, including CNN and Warner Bros. — both Time Warner entities.

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