If you've got a microphone and an instant messaging program (Chapter 15), you can talk to friends and family around the world without paying the phone company a nickel. There's only one downside: these are computer-to-computer calls. You and your conversation partner are both chained to your computers and are required to use compatible IM programs.
But thanks to a technology called Voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, you can sidestep most of this geekery and still make free or cheap long-distance calls. It may sound like the noise a cartoon kangaroo makes hopping across the outback (voip voip voip voip), but this emerging technology lets you save tons of money. And you can make phone calls to people with regular ol' phone numbers and their quaint, old-fashioned telephone handsets—by picking up and dialing your quaint, old-fashioned telephone handset. The only difference is that the Internet, not the phone company's system, is carrying the call.
Before you dig in, however, it's important to understand that there are two ways to make such calls:
Computer-to-phone. You sit at your computer wearing a headset, but you place calls to ordinary telephone numbers and ordinary telephones. The headset part's a bummer, but the calls are incredibly cheap.
Phone-to-phone. These services let you place calls from any phone in your house to any phone, just as people have done for years. The only difference is behind the scenes: the phone company isn't involved. ...