Gmail Adds Voice and Video Chatting
Gmail is getting increasingly difficult to avoid these days. Yesterday, Google introduced the option of audio and video chatting to Gmail's Google Chat component.
There's nothing new about adding free voice and visual communication to an instant-messaging system; AOL, Yahoo and MSN have offered it for years, and it's been part of Skype from the start. But with Gmail, there's no separate application to run; once you add its free browser plug-in, you can start a face-to-face chat from right within your browser.
Installing that plug-in, however, may be less than obvious. Clicking the "Chat" category on Gmail's settings page reveals a brief note about this new option's arrival, but the tech-support article linked to from there doesn't point to the software. Instead, go to gmail.com/videochat to download the plug-in.
This little application runs in Windows XP or Vista and Mac OS X 10.4 or 10.5. On a Dell laptop running Vista, I had to fuss briefly with the "Manage Audio Devices" control panel (perhaps because I'd earlier used this machine to test voice-dictation software that required its own changes to its audio setup); on a MacBook running OS X 10.5, the plug-in install took more steps but didn't demand any reconfiguration.
A video chat between each laptop worked as advertised, with good picture resolution but a slight but distracting echo on the Mac. You can see the other party in a corner of your Gmail page or in a separate window; if he or she doesn't have a Webcam, you can set up a one-way video chat.
The ease of jumping into a video chat from a page that many people stay logged into all day long seems likely to increase the popularity of video chatting overall. It will also probably increase the amount of time people spend in Gmail -- and therefore the amount of time they're exposed to Gmail's ads.
Have you tried out Gmail's video chatting? Report back here on your experience.
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