I love to talk on the phone. I love a bargain. I love free. How many ways can Mac users talk on their Macs these days? Plenty.
From iChat to Skype to Gizmo and others, the Mac is becoming a free for all talk fest.
What is surprising is how many of my Mac using friends don’t know their Macs can become a phone, of sorts. Most Mac users think iChat is only for text messaging, chatting between Mac users.
Often, Mac users think iChat is useful between Macs at home, and haven’t much explored the Mac-to-Mac across the country capability. And that’s just iChat users.
There’s audio and video between Mac users anywhere in the country or elsewhere in the world. It’s not much different than talking on a not-so-good cell phone connection.
How many ways are there to use your Mac to talk to others ‘on the phone?’ Mac users with an iSight camera are ready to go with iChat. If you’re not into iChat, there’s also Skype which, like iChat does free audio and video calls, Mac to Mac, or Mac to PC.
Skype has special plans where you can call from your Mac to a real telephone for a flat annual fee.
Unlike iChat, Skype only works from Skype user to Skype user unless you pay more for the landline phone connectivity.
There’s also Gizmo, which is like Skype and iChat, and offers landline telephone connectivity, too. Gizmo doesn’t have the features of Skype or iChat, but works well with Adium, yet another way Mac users can communicate with the rest of the world.
Except for those pesky phone charges, iChat, Skype, and Gizmo can be free. Setting up and connecting is easy. But what if you want to spend money and isolate yourself from the rest of the VoIP world and connect only with Mac users? LoudHush is the way to go.
Many of these so-called VoIP, voice over internet protocol, systems share a few things in common. Voice, video, conference calling, and lots of features. So it is with SightSpeed.
Calls are free between SightSpeed users because you’re using your connection to the internet to connect to another SightSpeed user. SightSpeed is the least Mac-like of the VoIP utilities I’ve tried.
What’s interesting about the many and varied competitors to Skype and iChat is that most systems are proprietary, meaning you can only talk to someone else using a similar system. Connecting to a real telephone always costs extra. Most, but not all, of the software to connect is free.
I should mention AOL for Mac users, since iChat users can connect with AOL’s instant messaging system. AOL’s AIM is free.
Are there any problems with all these handy little telephone-company-avoiding tools to talk? A few. There’s often a delay in the sound, especially when who you are connecting to lives in a galaxy far, far away, or their bandwidth is limited. Forget dial up. DSL and cable are almost mandatory.
Voice quality sometimes is excellent. Sometimes not. In fact, sometimes it’s downright funny how slow and distorted the voice can be. Your mileage may vary, of course, because so much of the quality is dependent upon bandwidth, internet connections between users, and, to an extent, the microphone you choose to use.
The built-in microphones won’t sound as good as a dedicated headset with mic, which can cost $30 to more. Much more.
I’ve had the best success with iChat connecting to friends and relatives who also use iChat.
Next, I have decent, though sporadic success using Skype-to-Skype, and Skype-to-phone isn’t bad.
After that, I prefer AIM, but using iChat instead of AOL’s whatever-could-be-worse we’re-working-on-it AIM for Mac users. Remember the basics. It’s usually a ‘free’ call from user computer to user computer using iChat, Skype, AIM, Gizmo, SightSpeed or whatever else you choose.
Calls to a landline telephone will cost, either on a per-minute basis, or some kind of monthly or annual package. Surprisingly, video conferencing, even plain old video chatting user to user, is not as popular as I suspect it will be one day.
Look for iChat to show up in an iPhone of the maybe not so distant future. It’s doubtful if Apple will allow iChat to work using the cell phone company’s network, but it should work fine using WiFi.
My question of the day is, ‘Do you use iChat?’ If so, how? If not, what else works for you besides iChat? Share in the Comments section below.