Vying to compete with the likes of instant messaging veterans America Online, Microsoft and Yahoo, Google last week launched its own IM service with voice-over-IP capabilities.
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 Apples iChat, Cerulean Studios Trillian Pro and the open-source Gaim.
For voice chat, users must have a speaker and microphone. 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 capabilities.
Google Talk Beta requires a subscription to Googles Web-based e-mail offering, Gmail. Gmail was previously accessible only by invitation from current Gmail users. However, 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 runs on PCs with Windows XP or Windows 2000.