Google has launched an instant-messaging program that allows text chat and computer-to-computer voice connections, a move that highlights the search giant's increasing competition with Yahoo, Microsoft and America Online.
Google's Web site late Tuesday provided a link to download Google Talk and stated that the software "enables you to call or send instant messages to your friends for free-ľanytime, anywhere in the world." Google's messaging program is linked to the company's Web-based e-mail program, Gmail, and both are in a beta, or test, phase.
While Google Talk was expected, some industry observers questioned what innovation Google could add to lure loyal users and their millions of buddies away from established instant-messaging applications.
One advantage to Google Talk could be its ability to connect with users of competing services. The service is based on the Jabber open-source standard, which allows consumers to connect with other messaging systems that work with Jabber, such as Apple Computer's iChat, GAIM, Adium, Trillian Pro and Psi.
Google Talk currently works only on Windows, according to Google's Web site. Users need a microphone and a speaker to take advantage of the voice capabilities.
The company's moves are a further sign of its expansive ambitions in the face of growing competition from rivals Yahoo, AOL and MSN. The launch comes one day after Google rolled out a beta version of its free desktop software, Desktop 2, that includes a personalized toolbar dubbed "Sidebar" for accessing e-mail, stock quotes and news, as well as a scratch pad for taking notes and tools for searching the desktop and Microsoft Outlook in-box.
The company, which last week announced plans to raise $4 billion in a secondary stock sale, already offers a wide variety of services beyond Web search, including Gmail, news, alerts, the Froogle shopping search engine, the Blogger service for posting blogs, desktop search, the Picasa photo-sharing software, Google Maps and Google Earth. The company has reportedly been looking into buying up unused fiber optic and radio spectrum, as well as buying wireless companies such as Android.
It makes sense for Google to come up with additional ways to attract users and keep them on the Google Web site longer, said Danny Sullivan, editor of Search Engine Watch.
"In the end, I think they have to do it because in reality they are a portal, a big gateway people use to access the Web, and people seem to expect certain things from these gateways and one of them is instant messaging," he said.
But Google faces an uphill battle to win converts from the leaders in instant messaging--AOL's AIM, Yahoo Messenger and Microsoft's MSN Messenger--whose members will no doubt be resistant to switch their buddy lists to a new IM service, Sullivan said.
Google Talk users can't use the program to talk with users of AIM, MSN Messenger or Yahoo Messenger. An IM service is only useful if a user has other people to communicate with.
After playing with Google Talk, Sullivan gave it strong marks for sound quality but said it lacked video chat, which Yahoo offers, and
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