Linux vendor Linspire Inc. has released PhoneGaim, a free software program that adds voice-over-IP functionality to the Linux-based Gaim instant messaging client.
Linspire, aka Lindows, has taken the popular open-source Gaim IM client, which interoperates with AIM, MSN, ICQ and Yahoo IM services, and enhanced it with SIP (Session Initiation Protocol)-based VOIP services. The resulting program, PhoneGaim, enables users to communicate by voice as well as by IM chat.
PhoneGaim users will be able to use one buddy list for both IM and voice, according to San Diego, Calif.-based Linspire. The program will show phone icons next to users screen names, and they can be called with a click.
Users will be able to make calls using a PCs microphone and speaker, or via a designated SIP phone. The $20 SIPphone can be connected to a PCs audio ports and is available from SIPphone.com. Michael Robertson, the CEO of Lindows, also runs this separate company .
Other companies, such as Skype Technologies S.A., have also offered VOIP services for Linux users, albeit with a proprietary VOIP protocol. There are also several open-source efforts that bring VOIP functionality to Linux. These include KPhone and Linphone. Linspire, however, appears to be the first to offer a Linux package that integrates an IM client with VOIP and a service plan.
Linspire is also offering a optional gateway service, enabling PhoneGaim users to make calls that can connect to any phone in the world. This service is also provisioned through a partnership with SIPphone. The software is available at www.phonegaim.com.
Unanswered SIP calls, using the SIPphone services, will be routed to voicemail and forwarded to e-mail address. Service users will also be able to make or receive calls from any phone, SIPphone or PhoneGaim user.
Calls to other SIP endpoints, which travel over the Internet, avoid all per-minute charges, just like voice calls made over such Windows-based voice IM clients as Yahoo, MSN or ICQ. Calls to non-PhoneGaim endpoints that are SIP-compliant, such as those of MSN Messenger, may require the user to manually enter a SIP address or an e-mail address, if such addressing is supported by the other VOIP-enabled IM system.
The SIPphone service features a promotional offer of five free minutes of off-network calling to selected countries. For more calls to non-SIP endpoints, PhoneGaim users can purchase additional minutes from SIPphone online. PhoneGaim users also can rent virtual phone numbers from SIPphone for $5 per month, so that they can be reached via PhoneGaim by non-IP phones.
Robertson notes that SIPphones relationships with other SIP networks allows the company to offer calls to far-off destinations at local rates. Australias number-two telco, Optus, is one such partner. "Our strategy is to entice more phone companies to peer with us," said Robertson.
Linspire is best known for its popular Lindows operating system and its continuing international legal battle with Microsoft over the Lindows and Windows trademarks. PhoneGaim marks the companys first venture into telephony.