Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Google Talk pluses, and a lot of minuses

Google gets so much publicity whenever it does anything at all that I feel like a cog in its marketing machine just writing about it. But since I started last night, I better finish with some initial observations on Google Talk.

First, the pluses: It's dead simple to setup and use. A friend called me tonight on Skype and the quality wasn't great -- my friend kept breaking up, although he heard me fine. We switched to Google Talk and he sounded much clearer, no break up at all. You can't draw conclusions from one call, and Skype usually sounds much better, but my initial impression was good. I also haven't made any special changes on my wireless router for Google Talk, which I've done for Skype. Adding contacts was simple too, as long as they have a gmail account. Finally, I was able to connect to Google's service from Gaim on Linux, so put a checkmark next to the standards compliance.

Now for the negatives. Skype needn't worry right away. There's no way to make or receive calls from regular phones (equivalents of SkypeOut and SkypeIn, respectively) and no voicemail. Calls and chats aren't encrypted, the voice calls work on Windows only and I didn't see any way to have group chats (I might have just missed this feature). The standards compliance has some limits, too. There's no way yet to initiate a call to someone who isn't on the service (such as a member of another Jabber server). Many of these limitations are mentioned already in the documentation on Google's site, so there are probably plans to address them.

A couple of similarities: The voice calls are peer-to-peer, like Skype's, and the basic user interface is remarkably similar.

Conclusion: In a few iterations, once Google follows through on some of its promises, Google Talk could be a winner. In the meantime, at best it's something that I'm going to run once in a while, alongside Skype and Gaim.

[Update: SkypJournal does a better point-for-point comparison.]

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