Starting today, Google is lifting the covers off of their new feature in Gmail: allowing users to call mobile and landline numbers within the United States and Canada for free! However, this service is only available to users currently in the US and Canada only. No longer are two callers required to be on their computers at the same time. You should see this new feature once you are logged in to your Gmail account. All that is required is a small plug-in install, a mic (most laptops already have a integrated mic), and of course, a Gmail account. You do not need a Google Voice account, however, outbound calls you make to others will have a weird generic number. Similar to Skype, Google is offering low rates when calling to international countries. The free calls to within the United States and Canada are good until the end of this year so no one knows if they are planning on extending that offer.
UPDATE (8/25/10): Do not worry folks. For those who are unable to make outbound calls, Google has recognized and is currently working to resolve this issue. In the meantime, if you really can’t wait, a temporary fix is to sign-up for a free Google Voice number. Remember though, using Gmail to make outbound calls does *not* require you to have your own dedicated Google Voice number. Once Google fixes the problem, the people who are experiencing the “Please try again..” error will be able to make outbound calls without any other requirements.
UPDATE 2 (8/26/10): Good news! It seems that Google has fixed the issues and calling phones from within Gmail now works perfectly for those of use who were having problems yesterday.