It was only a matter of time before Google followed the likes of Skype, MSN, and Yahoo! The search engine giant has now added voice and video communications capabilities to the tools available to Gmail users. With a Webcam and free software, users will be able to easily place video calls to other Gmail users -- audio-only calls can be made if you don't have a Web cam.
Of course, with the majority of new laptops embedded with cameras, a growing number of users will enjoy the capability, from within the Gmail application. The service is available for both Windows and Mac users.
This is just the latest in a series of add-ons that Google has added, as it seeks to win users from its rivals in the no-cost email market. The key differentiator, for now at least, is that Google is offering it as a free tool, unlike Microsoft and Yahoo!
Though it is gaining ground having grown its user base by 34 percent to some 113 million, Google remains in third place in the email space. Yahoo! Added 8 percent to 274 million users, and Microsoft leads the pack, up 13 percent from last year to 283 million users.
The challenge, of course, is that Skype is well entrenched in the free calling space with more than 370 million users at last count -- and it, too, enables video chat. In addition, Skype is becoming more widely incorporated into business communications systems, thanks to gateways from companies like VoSKY. It also is being integrated directly into business applications, like Salesforce.com, which it announced just last week.
Still, its popularity as a search engine will provide it some brand leverage, and with Yahoo's struggles, anything can happen -- unless Microsoft reverses course and decides to buy it, which Steve Ballmer refuted last week.