Gmail launches voice and video chat

Google has launched Gmail voice and video chat, making it simple for people around the world to chat in high-quality video for free right within Gmail. All you need is a webcam and a small web browser plugin, and you can start video chatting with your friends, family, and coworkers on Gmail and Google Apps. Gmail voice and video chat lets you start a video chat without switching to another application or signing up for another account. 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.

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 timezones 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. Having a meeting with a colleague over video allows communications to continue in person without the expense of traveling there. Whether it’s a coworker demoing 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 get started, 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 2 MB 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 is the first leading webmail service to include video chat. 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.

Gmail has always been about more than just email – it’s increasingly a communications hub, always pushing the limits of browser-based applications. 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 like embeddable gadgets, the Forgotten Attachment Detector, and Mail Goggles ), a mobile client for Android phones, animated emoticons, and more.

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).

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