Headset with built-in microphoneMany companies are now offering services to enable you to use your computer to speak to anyone in the world for free via your Internet connection. With a little coordination amongst your friends and family, it is very easy to set up. And if you can persuade your grandmother to use a headset, there will be no stopping you.

Such terms as voice over Internet protocol (VOIP) and instant messenger, and company names such as Skype are commonly bandied around. But what do you need to do and what equipment will you need to verbally keep in touch with your loved ones from France ?

You will need an Internet connection. If you are fortunate enough to have ADSL (broadband) in your area, the service will work much better. However you may get some joy with a simple 56 Kb modem connection but the results are inevitably less satisfying.

Visit one of the many sites offering the service. Here are just a few examples:

Skype
Google Talk
Yahoo Messenger

You will need to download the appropriate software and register.

Your computer needs a microphone and speakers, as does the computer of the person you intend to speak to. However, it is much better if both of you use a headset with a microphone built in. This means you avoid the uncomfortable experience of hearing what you have just said on your contact’s speakers. Such headsets are widely available and some of the providers sell them on the sites mentioned above. You can buy headsets that connect directly to the sound jack of your computer (i.e. where your speakers plug in) or sets that connect via a USB port on your computer.

Telephone handsets are also available on the market specifically to take advantage of this technology.

Agree a time when you and your contact will both be online, or add them to your contacts so you can see when they are online, and talk away.

If you witness a lot of distortion on the call, you may need to adjust your audio settings. This is done via the Control Panel in Windows. Click on Sounds and Audio Devices. On the Voice tab click the Test Hardware button to bring up a wizard that will enable you to find out if your microphone is functioning correctly. Adjust the volume levels to minimise feedback and distortion.

Some of the above providers allow you to use the software to call landlines (not for free) around the world as well. You need to credit your account, and dial the number you want on the on screen dial pad. It is worth checking their prices against what you currently pay, as there are some good offers to be had.

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