If there's any truth to the latest story over at CNet News, you might be able to make phone calls directly from Gmail before too long. Although the site doesn't mention a source, it claims to have "learned" of Google's plans, and it has a few screenshots with pixelated contacts lists to prove it.
The shots suggest Google will shoehorn the web-to-phone functionality into Gmail's existing chat widget. That widget lets users send instant messages via Google Talk and AOL Instant Messenger, and it also offers computer-to-computer voice and video calling via a browser plug-in. Letting folks call real phones doesn't seem like such a stretch, then.
The rumor seems especially plausible considering Google's acquisition of Gizmo5 last year. Gizmo5, in Google's own words, "provides Internet-based calling software for mobile phones and computers."
I'd certainly welcome a solid, easy-to-use alternative to Skype for cheap international calling. Skype does have the benefit of running on smart phones (namely Android devices and the iPhone), so Google would need a similar app for me to make the switch. A web-based solution would probably work just fine with those upcoming Chrome OS slates, though.
Update 11:40AM: Rumor confirmed!
The "Call phone" feature appeared on my Gmail account this morning. Google details international call rates here.
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