Unlike AOLs, Yahoos and Microsofts consumer IM offerings, Google Talk Beta is based on open standards, so users can send text messages to users of services such as Apple Computer Inc.s iChat, Cerulean Studios Trillian Pro and the open-source GAIM. For voice chat, users must have a speaker and microphone.
Google Talk does require a subscription to Googles Web-based e-mail offering, Gmail. Gmail was previously only accessible by invitation from current Gmail users, but Google is now opening up the service to more users. To sign up, users must enter their phone number at the Gmail Web site and receive a text invite from Google.
Google Talk Beta is downloadable at www.google.com/talk/. The software runs on PCs with Windows XP or Windows 2000.
One early tester was impressed with the voice quality.
"The VOIP is great," said Keith Gorman, of Memphis, Tenn. "Its as good as Skype or a regular phone." Gorman was disappointed, however, that the new tool lacks conference chat.
The news comes on the heels of Googles release earlier this week of Version 2.0 beta of its desktop search tool. Among new features is the addition of the Google Sidebar, which appears as a window on a users screen and presents a personalized shortlist of news, RSS feeds, weather, stocks, photos and new e-mails. The personalized content is generated and updated based on information gleaned by a users Web searches and other indexed content. Google Desktop can search a users Web history, e-mail, Microsoft Office applications, Adobe PDF, plain text, media and image files, computer files, music, photos, and IM chats.
"We saw this as a way for users to sit back and watch the Web come to them," said Nikhil Bhatla, product manager for Google Desktop, in Mountain View, Calif.
For example, said Bhatla, "If you visit a friends blog a couple times, you might see new blog posts turn up in the file."
The sidebar is customizable and optional, said Bhatla.
Google is also providing SDKs to allow third parties to write plug-ins for the sidebar. "You can imagine an eBay monitor plug-in to monitor eBay bids and sales," said Bhatla.
The sidebar also includes a Quick Find search box, which Google says can serve as a tool to quickly launch applications.
"If you type the word power, a menu pops up that lets you launch Microsoft PowerPoint. You can also see results of e-mails, files, etc., that contain the word power," said Bhatla.
New filtering enhancements allow search by contact name, file type and time. The tool is also more integrated with Outlook e-mail and includes a toolbar within Outlook for searching e-mails, contacts and tasks instead of searching through a Web browser. Google Desktop also now supports MSN Messenger instant messaging in addition to AIM.
In addition, Version 2.0 allows search of network drives. Google says these and other functionalities will be added into its enterprise desktop search tool shortly.
On the security front, the tool now allows optional index encryption. The encryption is based on the Windows encrypted file system, which does cause a dip in performance, says Google.
With Version 2.0, Google Gmail users can also now search their Gmail accounts offline. Google Desktop Search runs on Windows XP or Windows 2000 Service Pack 3 and above. Google has no current plans to offer a version for Linux or Mac OS systems, but its something theyre considering, Bhatla said.
Google Desktop 2.0 Beta is available now. Users must have administrator privileges to install the tool, at least 500MB hard disk space and 256MB of RAM.