Gmail becomes a Google Talk interface

Google is tightening the link between Gmail and Google Talk by allowing users to conduct instant messaging text chat sessions from within the Webmail service's interface.

To use Google Talk from within Gmail, users don't need to download any additional software nor a separate application. It's a new Gmail feature that Google will start to enable on Tuesday. The rollout, limited to users of the U.S. English-language interface, will be completed in a matter of weeks, said Gmail product manager Keith Coleman.

Users will see a new list of contacts, from which IM sessions can be started. IM windows open up right on the browser, which can be either Microsoft's Internet Explorer, versions 6.0 and up, or Mozilla's Firefox 1.0 and up. Support for other browsers will be added later.

Google developed this feature to address the "arbitrary separation" that exists between e-mail and IM applications, a source of frustration and inconvenience for users, Coleman said.

Users wanting to use Google Talk's voice chat feature will have to use the IM service's own interface, because, at least for now, Gmail will only host text chat IM sessions, he said.

However, it would be an "obvious" move for Google to extend the Google Talk voice chat capabilities to Gmail, although the company isn't committing to doing that at this point, Coleman said.

Google Talk sessions conducted on Gmail will be saved by default along with e-mail messages. Users have the option of turning off this functionality to prevent the system from keeping a record of a text chat.

Although other providers such as Microsoft, Yahoo Inc. and America Online Inc. have built links between their Webmail and IM services, the Google integration is particularly compelling in the way it has been architected, said Allen Weiner, a Gartner analyst.

The move will also boost the usage of Google Talk, which needs all the help it can get as the newest arrival in the consumer IM market dominated by AOL, Yahoo and MSN, Weiner said.

It will be interesting to see how this Google Talk-Gmail integration progresses, particularly if Google adds the voice chat capabilities and pushes it into the area of group collaboration, to rival products such as Microsoft's NetMeeting, Weiner said.

The company launched Google Talk in August of last year and made it a requirement for its users to have a Gmail account. Both services are free and both are in beta, or test, periods.

When Google Talk was launched, it included a set of initial links with Gmail, including identical log-in information and the ability to access the Gmail inbox from within the Google Talk interface and send e-mail messages from there. In addition, Google Talk alerts users when new messages are received in their Gmail account. Moreover, the two services share a single list of contacts.

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