Google gets vocal

In many ways Google is the bad boy/bad girl celebrity of the Internet world – you can’t take your eyes off the company because everybody is watching to see what they do next. So far Google hasn’t disappointed.

In only a few short years the company has grown from a mere search engine into a leading news hub, an interactive mapping service, an image and video browsing service, a free blog host, a free web-based e-mail service, and a yellow pages-type directory.

Last week Google announced that they would be branching out into the Voice Over IP (VOIP) market through Google Talk, a text and voice message service that will essentially allow free long distance calling almost anywhere in the world.

Obviously Google is not the first company to offer this kind of service – Skype practically invented VOIP, and people have been able to video and voice conference through various Instant Messaging services for years. But Google has a way of making things simple and universally appealing.

You can put a Google Talk icon right on your taskbar (Windows only for now), and click on it at anytime to call up a window that lets you choose between text chat or phone. After that it’s as simple as checking your list of contacts to see who’s online, and clicking on the name of the person you want to talk you.

You’ll need to buy a headset to plug into your computer, but cheaper sets start around $20. Broadband Internet is also essential, otherwise calls will sound choppy and break up.

Google Talk is also compatible with other IM services, although it’s a much more basic service – no smiley face emoticons, one font only, and no file transfers. You also have to be a member of Gmail to use it, and those addresses are still only available by invite only. And unlike other VOIP services, Google Talk also doesn’t let you call or receive calls from landlines or cell phones, even if you have a VOIP subscription.

Despite these limitations Google Talk is exactly what the average person is looking for – a simple, no frills VOIP system to stay in contact with a handful of people of your choosing.

No compromise in HD war

I apologize for flogging the same dead horse week after week, but I have to do something to vent my frustration with Sony and Toshiba, their partners, and their inability to agree on a single, unified format for next generation DVDs capable of holding high definition movies.

Which means, starting this winter, there are going to be two different HD formats to choose from when buying players and purchasing movies. Within a year, every movie store is probably going to have to carry both formats. People who buy home media centers and video game consoles because of their dual use as movie players are also going to have to make a difficult, and potentially unfair choice.

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