Yesterday, I wrote about how to use Google Apps to do voice & video chat with others who use Gmail (either at the University of Minnesota, or anyone with a gmail.com address.) But what if you want to have a conversation with someone who doesn't have Gmail?
The obvious solution, which you probably do every day, is to pick up the phone and call them. But as most of us are probably painfully aware, those long-distance phone bills can add up.
If you experimented with voice & video chat, you probably noticed the "Call phone" icon in your chat list. This lets you call any number in the US for free using Google. In my department, we use this feature to make our long-distance calls to the Twin Cities campus (for example: committees, etc.) and now our monthly phone bills are essentially the cost of having a phone on the desk - as close to zero as you can get.
To make a call, just click on the "Call phone" item in "Chat". You'll get a little dialer that looks like the keypad on a phone. Simply tap in the phone number (or type it in the box) and click "Call" to make the call. If you have phone numbers in your contacts, you can also search for that person in the box. For example, I have the phone number for the Twin Cities Conference Operator saved in my contacts, so I just type "conf" in the box, and it automatically finds (and enters) the number for the conference operator.
Like voice chat, you'll need a microphone and speakers connected to your computer. And you will need to install a small driver from Google. It's easy to set up on your own! If you don't have the driver, you'll be prompted to download and automatically install it, the first time you try to make a call. Call the Helpdesk if you need help.
One thing to know when you make phone calls from Google: the person you are calling will not see your number when you call. Since you're making the call through Google's network, the call will go out from a Google server. So "your" number won't show up as your work number, but a phone number assigned to one of Google's data centers.