Google releases new instant messaging program

Google Inc.’s latest attempt at world domination is quiet and low-key.

Google Talk, a new instant messaging software program, doesn’t have some of the neat features that competitors America Online Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Yahoo Inc. offer.

No assortment of smiley-faces and other personalization gewgaws. No file-sharing function. No video chat.

Like the company’s search engine site, Talk is all about simplicity. It’s tied closely to the company’s Gmail service for e-mail _ so closely that users must sign up with Gmail to use Talk. (All of this is free.) A Talk user can scroll through Gmail contacts to find someone to chat with.

Talk also alerts its user when new Gmail e-mail arrives via a little pop-up box that emerges from the desktop toolbar. This replaces Google’s old Gmail Notifier software, and it’s better. You can now click on the box to automatically open the new e-mail.

Talk lets users audio-chat as if they were talking on the phone. On my computer, with a broadband connection, this sounded pretty good, only occasionally skipping or sounding jumbled.

Talk users can’t chat with users of AOL Instant Messenger or other popular services, though Google is trying to convince other companies to change that.

There are a few other chat programs that work with Talk, most notably Apple Computer Inc.’s iChat. (Users of iChat still have to have a Gmail address, and they can only chat using text, not voice.)

Should you replace your current instant-messaging program with Talk? Probably not, if you and your friends already use a different one. But fans of Gmail will find Talk a simple and easy transition to the world of IM.

Bottom line: For the Google faithful only.