Google Voice Gmail Calling Now Free Through 2011

Google is making its Google Voice-based Gmail calling feature available to all users free in the U.S. through 2011. Merry Christmas.

Google Dec. 20 said it will continue to make its Gmail calling capability free through 2011, a sign that the company wants to make sure more of its Webmail users embrace the technology.

Google launched its Call Phones from Gmail feature in August, leveraging the company's popular Google Voice phone management software.

Google said the tool would let U.S. users call anywhere in the U.S. and Canada for free through 2010 and make international calls for pennies per minute. Gmail users took up the service with gusto, logging 10 million calls through the first week.

"In the spirit of holiday giving and to help people keep in touch in the new year, we're extending free calling for all of 2011," Google software engineer Robin Schriebman said in a blog post.

To access the feature, users must download Google's voice and video plug-in. Gmail users may then click the "Call Phone" tab in the chat section in the left menu bar.

This action will pop open a window with a virtual keypad to the right of the screen. The feature will display Google Voice users' numbers in outbound calls.

Gmail calling is certainly one way to get more users to use Google Voice. AllThingsDigital's Liz Gannes said she uses the feature as her primary landline at home.

What Google should do, in addition to making Google Voice available to its Gmail users all over the world, is layer the phone calling capability across all relevant services, including Google Docs, Sites and all other Google Apps.

Moreover, adding calling across its dozens of consumer Web services could help the company as it looks to build out its social networking communications capabilities in 2011.

This would alsocounter Facebook's integration with VOIP giant Skype.