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Sitemap Sep-Archive-05 Google Instant-Messaging Service Does a Lot without Bells and Whistles

Google Instant-Messaging Service Does a Lot without Bells and Whistles  

Google Talk, the new instant-messaging and voice chat software unveiled recently, is very much like every other product rolled out by those masters of Internet search in Mountain View: Elegantly minimalist and a little quirky.

There are none of the bells and whistles found in the Big Three of instant messaging: America Online's hugely popular Instant Messenger, also known as AIM; Microsoft's MSN Messenger; and Yahoo Messenger. Google Talk is not compatible with these popular IM programs. Google Talk offers no scrolling stock tickers, flashing ad banners, pop-up news pages or animated buddy icons. Indeed, it is so slimmed down that many users might find little reason to switch.

In another important step, Google opened its free Gmail e-mail service to the public -- sort of. First launched by invitation only in March 2004, anyone in the United States can now open a Gmail account by taking the awkward step of asking for a short text message with a code number to be sent to a cell phone. That is important because you need a Gmail account to use Google Talk. If you have got a Gmail account, Google Talk will work on any computer running Windows 2000 or Windows XP.

To get started, go to the Google Talk site and download the software. You install it, agree to accept terms of a lengthy user agreement, and then get a small window on-screen where you can see which of your ‘friends’ -- as opposed to AIM's ‘buddies’ -- are online. These friends must also be Gmail users, and you reach them by entering their Gmail address, or users of other compatible IM programs.

When you click on the name of a friend who is online, you can immediately start typing an instant message, or click an ‘Email’ button to send a Gmail message, or click a ‘Call’ button to start a computer-to-computer voice conversation. For voice calls, your computer needs a microphone and speakers or a phone-style headset.

Heavy IM users, though, are likely to find Google Talk too simple -- at least in this first version. There is no videoconferencing, a longstanding feature in all the other major IM packages, and no group messaging or group voice calls; Google Talk only allows for one-to-one sessions, although you can carry on several IM exchanges simultaneously.

One area where Google Talk pushes ahead of the competition is by sticking with open standards. This means Google Talk users can exchange IMs with other open-standard IM programs, including iChat for the Apple Macintosh users and GAIM or Psi for Linux. Voice calls, though, are limited to other Google Talk users.

If you want to try Google Talk and you need a Gmail account, you can go to the main Gmail page and click on the link that says ‘Sign up for Gmail using your mobile phone.’ You will then be walked through the process of requesting a short text message, or SMS, to be sent to your cell phone with a six-digit code number. You use that code on the Gmail site to open your account.

For the cell phone-impaired, Google adds, If you want to open an account a different way, you may want to ask a friend with a mobile phone to receive an invitation code for you or to ask someone you know who already has a Gmail account to email you an invitation.

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