Article by Kevin Savetz

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Copyright © by Kevin Savetz

Your trusty telephone may by slowly heading down the long road to obsolescence, thanks to a new breed of tools that allow you, equipped with the right computer hardware and an Internet connection, to do real-time voice communications over the Internet.

That's right - you can use the Internet like a telephone, to chat with your cyberspatial cronies across town or around the world. Unlike IRC or talk, which simply put your typewritten words onscreen, or even voice synthesis, these programs transmit your voice to a faraway computer. You'll need a pretty speedy computer (such as a 486 or a 68040 Macintosh), a SLIP or PPP connection (sorry, shell accounts won't do), a microphone and sound output. The modem? Most programs work pretty well with 14.4KBPS modems -- some even work at 9600BPS. The person you want to talk to will need a similar setup and a 'net connection.

Audioconferencing programs work by digitizing your speech as you talk and sending the digital data over the Internet. Modem connections have limited bandwidth (14.4KBPS) but telephone-quality sound requires 8,000 bytes each second. Most software makes up the difference by compressing your voice on the fly. The result is understandable, although not necessarily high-quality, audio.

Some of the programs available to do voice on the 'net are free, others are commercial. Many of these products are ready for prime time and others are experimental.

There are two phone programs for the Mac: the free, but bandwidth-hungry Maven ( and the commercial but modem-friendly NetPhone ( Windows users have more choices, including Internet Phone (, Internet Voice Chat ( and the experimental infant tool, Internet Global Phone (*).

For more information about audio on the Internet, get the FAQ "How can I use the Internet as a telephone?" You can receive it by sending an e-mail request

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Articles by Kevin Savetz