America Online’s chairman and chief executive officer, Steve Case, predicts a second Internet revolution that will make the first one "look quaint by comparison."

The second revolution will be characterized by the convergence of media, entertainment and information, as well as a melding of household appliances like televisions, personal computers and telephones, which will be linked together and share content and functionality, he said.

"This is the beginning of a world we all dreamed about creating 10 years ago," Case said, during his Keynote speech at Internet World, "We've talked about this for years, but it's finally starting to happen."

The AOL chief showed prototypes of new Internet appliances developed by AOL and Gateway 2000 that, he said, will help make the converged vision a reality by providing consumers with tools for faster, easier access to the Internet.

The products, which will use the Linux operating system and a lightweight version of Netscape's Gecko browser, include a lightweight "countertop" appliance for the kitchen, a desktop appliance designed to serve as a low-cost alternative to the PC, and a wireless Web-pad.

Case said the Web pad is light enough to be installed anywhere in the home, and has a pivoting screen that will allow it to be hung from the underside of a shelf in the kitchen. The first appliances will be available at the end of this year, he said.

Mark Foster, vice president of marketing with edupoint.com, a provider of online educational courses, said: "I'm in the Internet business, but my wife is a general consumer and this is exactly the kind of thing that will win her over.

"Key to all this is simplicity for the consumer. It's got to be as seamless for them as Case portrayed it to be here today."

Case sounded a note of caution, saying the industry must be careful to include all citizens in the Internet, and not just the affluent. About three-quarters of homes in the US with incomes of $75,000 and above are connected to the Web, Case said, compared with only 10 per cent of the poorest households.

"I don't think there is a more urgent task than dealing with difficult societal issues, including the digital divide," Case said. "It's no use just talking about it, we have to do it," he added.