Google’s Gmail launches voice and video chat

12 Nov 2008

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Gmail users around the world can now chat in high-quality video for free within Google’s popular email service, as well as with co-workers using Google Apps, it emerged this morning.

“Gmail voice and video chat lets you start a video chat without switching to another application or signing up for another account,” Google said this morning. “And, if you don’t have a webcam, you can simply chat by voice. We’ve made it easy enough that your mom – or your employees –will actually use it.”

Google said the new product will appeal to businesses looking to cut down on travel and IT expenses.

“The launch comes as video communication grows in popularity; many of the latest lines of laptops, for example, come with built-in webcams. Businesses stretched across continents and time zones want more face-to-face collaboration among their employees, but in this economic climate, they’re looking for ways to cut travel and IT expenses.

The company claimed Gmail is the first webmail service to include video chat.

“Whether it’s a co-worker demo’ing a new product, or a first-time grandmother saying hello to her new grandson, sometimes there’s no substitute for speaking to and seeing someone. Google is offering browser-based voice and video chat as a natural extension to webmail and instant messaging, allowing people to choose how they want to communicate at each moment – by email, instant message, voice or video.”

To use the new service, open a Gmail chat window, click on the ‘Options’ menu at the bottom, and choose ‘Add voice/video chat’, which will walk you through a one-time installation of a free plugin (a quick 2MB download).

When you re-open Gmail, you’ll notice your ‘Options’ link in your chat window has changed to ‘Video & more’. Open this menu and click ‘Start video chat’ to see and hear your partner in high-quality video. You can pop out the video and change its size and position, or switch to full screen.

Gmail voice and video chat is being rolled out over the next day or so on PCs and on Macs. Google Apps customers get this service as well, at no extra charge, and can voice or video chat with any other Gmail or Apps users.

Video chat is the latest in a weekly stream of Gmail features that includes, most recently, Gmail Labs (a public testing ground for experimental features such as embeddable gadgets, the Forgotten Attachment Detector and Mail Goggles ), a mobile client for Android phones, animated emoticons etc.

To use voice and video chat, your PC must have Windows XP or a more recent version, or an Intel-based Mac with Mac OS X v10.4 or later. It works in browsers that support the latest version of Gmail (Google Chrome, Firefox 2.0+, Internet Explorer 7.0, and Safari 3.0).

By John Kennedy

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Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com