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Calling all gizmos

Using Linux for VoIP access.

Everyone seems to want to be a part of the voice-over IP trend, and with good reason. If you’re already paying for an Internet connection and a phone connection, wouldn’t it be great if you could simply drop one?

That’s what VoIP promises. You can use your Internet connection to make phone calls, And seemingly free phone calls– Internet connections typically cost a flat fee every month, whether you use the connection or not. While there are some bandwidth limitations, these limitations don’t effect most people. Furthermore, long distance costs don’t matter when you’re sending data over the Internet.

With the right hardware, almost anyone can connect. Most PCs come with speakers and many include microphones. Add your Internet connection and you could, in theory, make phone calls.

The only real problem is that the Internet doesn’t look much like a phone. Furthermore, you would only be able to call other Internet users with compatible software. That’s where services like Vonage and Skype come in. These services allow you to connect to the ordinary phone system, so that you can order a pizza, call Grandma, or a dial-a-joke service. These services cost money, obviously. You can often get a phone adapter to allow you to use your existing phones, and bypass the computer. The phone adapter connects your phone wiring to your Internet connection. Skype provides a Linux version of its software.

That’s why a new project is so appealing. The Gizmo project, at, provides a software application with versions for Windows, Mac OS X, and of course, Linux. This Gizmo software provides a sort of combination Instant Messenger, or IM, application and Internet phone.

Like IM clients, Gizmo shows you a list of your contacts, which Gizmo also calls a quick dial list. While these terms make Gizmo appear more phone-like, you can’t help but see the contact list as an IM buddy list. Gizmo tells you the status of each contact, such as available, busy, and so on. In addition, you can choose the status you want Gizmo to display to others describing whether you are available.

In addition, when you initiate a call, you type in a subject line, similar to the line used for email messages. And, if the person you are calling is a member of the Gizmo service, you can get a map showing the location of you can the person you are calling, using the Google map service. To make a call, you enter either a normal phone number or the Gizmo ID of another person.

The best part is that communicating with other Gizmo users is free. If you want to make phone calls to actual phones, though, you need to sign up for a service that requires a monthly fee. Since the Gizmo software runs on Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux, you could get Grandma on the system and make free long-distance calls. All she needs is a computer and an Internet connection, and chances are she has both.

In this respect, Gizmo is very similar to Skype, which is also free for calling other Skype users. To call in or out of the Skype network, you need to sign up for a fee-based service, similar to that provided by Gizmo. Gizmo goes further, though, in allowing network-to-network connections. This allows you to call in from other VoIP services, as well as call from Gizmo to other VoIP users. –Eric Foster-Johnson

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