by Jeff Smith
So you don't type so well. By the time you've hunt-pecked out "Hi there, loong tim no see!" the other party has done given you a 3 page description of their entire workweek. What to do, what to do... Oh yes, VOICE CHAT!
You may not know it, but your computer can save you a lot of money on your long distance phone bill. If the people you talk to most also have a computer, you can even talk for free! I'm not talking about a free twenty minute phone call, or only at certain times on certain days, I'm talking about 24/7 FREE, 365 days a year!
In this article, I'll just hit the high spots.
Skype - (Winows, Linux, Mac) Skype is about the most popular net-phone software out there. With it you can make free PC-to-PC phone calls and video calls (note, no video calls for Linux version... yet). You can purchase handsets that look and work just like a regular phone. If you want to set up an account with them, you can make really cheap calls from your PC to a regular phone line (they may have prepaid cards, I'm not sure). You can purchase the official Skype brand phones at places like Walmart... I saw some last time I was in Somerset.
Gizmo - (Windows, Linux, Mac) This is the one that I use myself. Gizmo does not do video calls like Skype does, but Gizmo integrates seemlessly with Grandcentral.com which is fascinating new project recently purchased by Google. Using these two together, I have one number that will ring my house phone, my cell phone, and my laptop (running Gizmo) and I can pick up that call on any one of them, as well as transfer it between them... even during a call. This allows me to be hyper-available and never miss an important phone call. And if I do miss one, it goes to a unified voicemail box and will even email me notice that I have a voicemail. And I can listen to it online... Way Cool, no? Whats more, there's a button on my weblog that will connect a call from you to my GrandCental number automagically!
I'll be switching my business advertisement to my Grandcentral number as soon as I've drawn up the new ads. GrandCentral is via invite only, meaning you have to be invited into it by a current user. I've got a few invites left, so if you're really interested in it, drop me a line and I'll invite you.
Ekiga Softphone - (Windows, Linux) This one is full of features, but isn't for those of you who are easily intimidated. This net-phone allows you to make free PC-to-PC voice and video calls, EVEN ON LINUX! It can make calls to regular phones, but it takes some setting up. Its installed by default on Ubuntu Linux and its completely open-source. From the Ekiga.org website -- "Ekiga is compatible with any software, device or router supporting SIP or H.323. It includes SwissVoice, CISCO, SNOM, ... IP Phones, but also software like Windows Messenger, Netmeeting, SJPhone, Eyebeam, X-Lite, ... or also the Asterisk popular IPBX, as well as any other commercial or Open Source IPBX. Ekiga is not compatible with Skype and will never be as long as their protocol will stay proprietary."
As more and more people move to net-based phones, long distance bills may eventually become a thing of the past. These programs provide a real and inexpensive way to communicate with the people you need to talk to. While some of you may feel intimidated, keep in mind that they have the potential to save you lots of money. And with the cost of communications no longer a barrier between you and your loved ones, you may just find you keep in touch a lot more often.
Keep in mind that these are just some of the available programs. There is a lot of internet phone software out there, so if you want a more comprehensive list, just point your browser to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_VoIP_software.
Next week: Have you heard about the Hollywood Writer's Guild strike? I'll be talking about how to find online enterainment when your favorite shows go into indefinate re-run holding patterns. Yay.
phone: (606) - 219 4088 (not after 8pm please)
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