Suddenly your computer is a telephone. You can talk to your computer (besides uttering unflattering oaths when it screws up!) and use it to communicate with associates. Leave that old phone on the hook!
Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) has been coming for years. Suddenly the technology is solid and everybody is getting into the act. The latest is Microsoft announcing a deal with MCI to enable users of Microsoft Messenger to place PC-to-phone calls all over the world. eBay bought Skype awhile back for a cool $2.6 billion. Last week Yahoo! made a deal with a company to create a similar service, and Google is heading that way with its Google Talk.
I’ve tried Google Talk and, more recently, Gizmo Project and found the quality very acceptable. (When you’ve used cell phones your expectations get lowered.) The big draw is that PC-to-PC VoIP is free and PC-to-telephone is cheap. Soon to follow as broadband increases is PC-to-PC video (Skype has already announced it will offer video).
What’s the catch? Well, it’s a Tower of Babel. There’s now a dozen services and they don’t talk to each other. It’s like having a dozen separate telephone companies. Either somebody offers a way to interconnect the services, or the companies come to their senses and develop a common standard (very unlikely), or we consumers wait through the agonizingly slow market process of survival of the fittest.