A new feature announced by Google today lets Australians have free, high-quality voice and video chats with friends and family anywhere in the world. Launching today, Gmail voice and video chat takes place all without leaving the browser – no more switching to another window or running another program.

Gmail is the first leading webmail service to include video chat, which offers a cost-effective and engaging way of keeping in touch with family and friends. All that’s needed is a webcam and small browser plugin, and you can start video chatting with your friends, family, and colleagues in Gmail. If you don’t have a webcam, you can simply chat by voice.

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. The launch comes as video communication grows in popularity; many of the latest laptops, for example, come with built-in webcams.

Today’s announcement is the latest in a range of innovative new Gmail features, many of which have sprung from Gmail’s public testing ground for experimental features, Gmail Labs (available under ‘Settings’ in your Gmail account). Recently launched features include:

  • Canned responses, to help lazy emailers respond automatically to common messages
  • Forgotten attachment detector, for those occasions when you forget to attach a file to your email
  • Mail Goggles, which asks you to solve a few simple math problems before your email will be sent

How to use Gmail voice and video chat

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 conversation partner in high-quality video. You can pop out the video and change its size and position, or switch to full screen. If you don’t have a webcam, you can simply chat by voice.

Gmail voice and video chat is being rolled out globally over the next day or so in all 50 languages supported by Gmail, on PCs and on Macs. Google Apps customers get this service as well, at no extra charge, and can video chat with any other Gmail or Apps users.

System requirements

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 all browsers that support the latest version of Gmail (Google Chrome, Firefox 2.0+, Internet Explorer 7.0, and Safari 3.0).

Source: Google