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Where Were You?

When monumental events occur, they are often indelibly imprinted on your brain. I remember double clicking on my first MP3 song and listening to CD-like quality sound booming from my PC speakers. The song was "Take Five" by Dave Brubeck and it was the "aha" moment when I saw the great benefit to consumers as the Internet intersected with the music business. I had a similar "aha" moment 3 weeks ago testing a new program called PhoneGaim. While walking around the Lindows office with my WiFi-equipped IBM laptop, I placed a call to Kevin Carmony, Lindows' President who was on his cell phone. That's right: I was calling from my PC to his cell phone and the quality was great. The Internet is colliding with telecom and it will mean huge benefits for consumers.


Your buddy list will tell you what friends can receive calls
Today, new software is being released which captures my vision of the next stage of phone calls. It combines the phone world with the instant message (IM) world. Previously instant message users and telephone users were two distinct, non-intersecting populations. There have been different address books and no interconnectivity even though phone and IM are similar styles of immediate communication. Desktop Linux is seeing the phone and PC worlds melt into one with the release today of the PhoneGaim software. It makes it possible for millions of instant messenger users to not only talk to each other over their PCs, but more importantly, they can call the 2.5 billion number telephone network. (Linspire users can immediately use CNR to 1-click install this software directly onto their computers.)

Here's how PhoneGaim works: We started with the popular Gaim instant messaging software. (We've financially supported Gaim in the past and have always appreciated the great work they've done.) Instead of just sending text messages and smileys between users, we have added the ability to dial and receive phone calls. PhoneGaim users simply click a phone icon and place a call from any 'Net-connected PC with a microphone and speaker. That call could be to another PhoneGaim user, whose computer would then ring. The call could be to a SIPphone user using an Internet phone, or even more impressive, that call could be to a landline or cell phone anywhere in the world. Now when you really want to get ahold of someone, you can IM them or make a voice call - it's a deluxe immediate communication tool.


See who's calling, and choose to answer or send them to voice mail

I've been testing early versions of PhoneGaim for the last few weeks while I've been traveling and it has proven incredibly useful. With a single click of my mouse, I placed calls from hotels in Mexico City and Milan, directly to people back at the office in front of their computer, or my family at the house phone, or even my executive team on their cell phones - all from my laptop. Using PhoneGaim makes it possible to avoid costly roaming fees or hotel phone surcharges. Monopoly phone companies won't be pleased, but consumers undoubtedly will be. The call quality is remarkably good. I placed most of my calls while connected to the Internet over WiFi, but it will also work over a modem. Most people are surprised at the clarity of the calls.

Each PhoneGaim user also receives a suite of services as part of their free account. They get a SIP number for free, which others can use to call them. Voice mail is included and messages are sent to an email address so you can check your messages from anywhere that you have access to email. There's also a complete call history, so you can track all inbound and outbound calls. These services are available because PhoneGaim uses SIPphone for its communication back-end, so affordable Internet phones can also dial and receive calls from PhoneGaim users.


Set the volume when you're on the phone

Combining instant messaging and the phone system makes sense because they are both immediate types of personal interactions. Adding hundreds of millions of potential instant messenger users to the 2.5 billion number phone network so they can interconnect, should expedite the growth of Internet-based calls. For sure, it means big cost savings as every 'Net-connected PC eventually becomes a phone booth. It will be fascinating to see if the impact of Internet calling rocks telecom like MP3 rocked the music business. I hope you'll install PhoneGaim today. Linspire users can use CNR 1-click, other desktop Linux users should visit for further instructions. Let me know in the forum what you think of the software that Lindows and SIPphone engineers have created.

NOTE: PhoneGaim is only available for desktop Linux computers today, but a Microsoft Windows version may be created in the future. To read the frequently asked questions about PhoneGaim, click here.

-- Michael
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