California: Google Inc. is introducing new tools that will convert its free e-mail service into a video and audio channel for people who want to see and hear each other while they communicate.
Activating the features, introduced on Tuesday, will require a free piece of software as well as a Webcam, which are becoming more commonplace as computer manufacturers embed video equipment into laptops.
Once the additional software is installed, Gmail users will be given the option to see and hear each other without leaving the e-mail application.
The video feature will work only if all the participants have Gmail accounts. It’s supposed to be compatible with both the Windows and Macintosh operating systems.
Google, the Internet’s search leader, has been adding more bells and whistles to Gmail as part of its effort to gain ground on the longtime leaders in free e-mail, Yahoo Inc. and Microsoft Corp.
Video chatting has long been available through the instant messaging services offered by Yahoo and Microsoft, but the feature isn’t available in their free e-mail applications.
Although Mountain View, California-based Google made strides since it began welcoming all comers to Gmail early last year, it remains a distant third with nearly 113 million worldwide users through September - a 34% increase from the previous year, according to comScore Inc.
Microsoft’s e-mail services boasted 283 million worldwide users, up 13% from the previous year, while Yahoo was a close second at 274 million, an 8% gain, comScore said.