After downloading the application and installing it (for Windows only at the moment), I chatted with Fredrik in Sweden. While just one use of the service clearly isn't a good basis for making any real judgments, it is pretty impressive from the crystal-clear sound quality and connectivity points of view.
Installation is very easy and the app configures itself with your default sound and hardware (microphone) setup. Then, you add contacts from your Gmail contacts list (or manually input their email addresses) to invite your friends to connect. You do need a Gmail account in order to use Google Talk.
Overall, I was very impressed with the ease of use and call quality. For anyone not yet using an internet phone service, Google Talk would be a good option especially if you have trust in the Google brand.
Many people will immediately compare Google Talk with Skype, as I did. But making such a comparison is an apples-and-oranges one.
From the user perspective, both do the same thing - enable you to connect via the net with anyone else running the desktop application and have voice conversations and text chats for free, wherever in the world you happen to be.
From this user perspective, that's where the similarities end.
Skype enables you to make phone calls to normal phone numbers. You can't do that with Google Talk. Skype has the ability to receive calls from normal phones. You can't do that with Google Talk. Skype has voicemail and conference calling ability. Google Talk doesn't. Skype computer-to-computer calls are encrypted. Google Talk calls aren't. And Skype has many third-party application plugins. Not yet any for Google Talk.
This is by no means a criticism of Google Talk which has only just launched (in beta, at that). From my simple experience this morning, it is very good indeed as a free phone and text messaging system, as good as Skype is in that regard. But a Skype killer it is not.
Not yet anyway. The information pages on the Google Talk website contain some interesting comment that could provide an indicator for what else might be coming from Google.
[...] We believe strongly in user choice and open standards, and we are committed to letting users access Google Talk using the client and platform of their choice, as well as to enabling our users to talk with users from other service providers. [...] Today, with instant communications, you can't talk to your contacts or buddies in one service while using another service. We hope to change that. We want to work with other willing service providers to enable their users to communicate directly with Google Talk users.
Is that an indicator that a tool Like Google Talk could one day be able to connect directly with other service providers like Skype, MSN Messenger, Yahoo Messenger, etc? It certainly looks like that's Google's intention, or desire at least.
Now that would be very interesting - the ability to connect and talk to other people without any concern over what tool or computer platform you use - and would be a massive step forward for this type of net-based communication service. It's about the communication not the technology.
Link that in with the rapid growth in broadband penetration in the major markets in the US and Europe, which will facilitate growth in audio- and video-based communication (for instance), and you can see where this all gets very interesting indeed.
- Related: Skype's the Limit - Niklas Zennström and Janus Friis have plans to rewire the planet — wirelessly — with Skype (article in Vanity Fair - hat tip to Constantin Basturea)