Network administrators who have been thinking if moving to Voice over IP (VoIP) but have balked at the cost, the possibility of QoS problems, and so forth, have a way they can try the technology for very little cash expenditure. If it pans out, then further investigation might be warranted. If not, well...
The Windows Messenger, Microsoft's answer to AOL Instant Messaging system has a nice feature that you might not be aware of -- you can use it to make voice calls to another computer. The technique for setting up and connecting two systems running Messenger is found on Microsoft's Web site. Options include one to one calls, send, receive, and even conference calls. To use this feature participants need a login to Microsoft Passport, a full-duplex sound card with headset, or speakers and USB Microphone, the contact entered into your Messenger contact list, and a Internet connection through a 28.8 modem or something faster.
Once you are in Windows Messenger and have signed into Passport you initiate a call by clicking the Call command, then Computer command, and then selecting the person you want to call in your contact list. The conversation is initiated by using the Send an Instant Message command and in the Conversation dialog box clicking on the Start talking command in the Sidebar. Once you get a response you can initiate the conversation. If you get an invitation, you can Accept or Decline commands to engage or end a conversation.
Phone conversations over an Internet connection can not only be convenient, but they can also save you money. And since it's already built into the Windows operating system, you might want to give it a try.
Barrie Sosinsky is president of consulting company Sosinsky and Associates (Medfield MA). He has written extensively on a variety of computer topics. His company specializes in custom software (database and Web related), training and technical documentation.