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Making long distance phone calls from your PC
It's totally free

My brother-in-law tipped me off to DialPad, a Java-based web-to-phone service. One day I got a phone call from him and the voice on the other end of the phone had a bit of an echo. I asked him where he was calling from and he answered: "My computer." He explained he was using DialPad, a free Internet calling service. About that time, my wife got on the extension phone and we had a 3-way conversation for about 20 minutes. The call itself was clear enough for everybody on the phone to understand each other but it didnít match the sound quality of a phone-to-phone conversation. 

My interest was piqued so I went online to the DialPad site: <www.dialpad.com> to see what it was all about. And, yes, the long distance service is free. The privately held company based in San Jose, CA makes its revenue by posting small unobtrusive ads in two DialPad windows. A new user has to register a name (I used first name and last initial) and a password. Then the user is invited to "build" a personal telephone list of names and phone numbers. I typed in several friends names and numbers to experiment. Unfortunately this happened on a Sunday afternoon and the experiment results were not impressive. The first call went OK but the quality of subsequent calls went downhill with voices breaking up, continuous repeating to be heard, etc. Apparently, the volume of traffic on the Internet effects the quality of the call. 

Since then, Iíve scheduled my calls for weekday mornings or early afternoons and have had much better luck. Some days the clarity of the conversation is as good as a standard long distance call. On other occasions, there is a slight pause of dead air when one person finishes a sentence before the other person can talk and be understood. It is almost like shortwave radio conversations when one person finishes a sentence and says "over" before the other person can talk. 

I used a headset microphone/earpiece borrowed from Vade Forrester. My brother-in-law used a stand-alone microphone along with his PC speakers which would allow other people in the room to listen to the person on the other end of the call. A digital "timer" in the Dialpad window counts the minutes and seconds if you want to know how long youíve been on the "phone", something that wife Marilyn has never been concerned with. 

Even with its shortcomings, Dialpad works pretty darn well and ó it doesnít cost you a cent. Download it at: <www.dialpad.com>. 

Another free Internet phone service is PhoneFree <www.phonefree.com>. I checked out its website and downloaded the program but to use it, your friends have to download the software also and you "talk" to each other PC to PC. There is a fee-based PC to telephone calling program but I ran out of time prior to deadline to check it out.

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