What Is Google's Version of Skype?
By David Nield
Hangouts, built into the Google+ social networking platform, is Google's equivalent of the Skype software. Hangouts enable you to make video and audio calls to other contacts, and the underlying Google Chat platform lets you send text-based instant messages too. You can make a call to anyone with a Google+ profile over the Web for free, although as yet calls to landlines and cell phones cannot be made.
Google Hangouts runs through a Web browser rather than a desktop software client. The service is compatible with Windows, Mac, Chrome OS and Debian-based Linux machines and can be accessed via Google Chrome, Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox or Apple's Safari browser. A 2 GHz or faster dual-core processor is required, as well as a 1 Mbps upload/download Internet connection. More bandwidth is required for group chats. Each "hangout" can have up to 10 participants.
Starting a Hangout
Before you can use Google Hangouts you must install the relevant plugin for your chosen browser and operating system. Click the "Start a hangout" button available on most Google+ pages to install the relevant plugin. The same setup wizard tests your webcam and microphone settings. You can invite other contacts or groups of contacts after the hangout has started and join public hangouts started by other people. Telephone contacts can be added to hangouts, although credits must be purchased to call numbers outside the U.S.A. and Canada.
The Screenshare feature enables you to share the contents of your screen with the other participants in the hangout, which is useful if you need to display a presentation, picture or problem with your computer. Specific hangout apps can be added to integrate services such as YouTube and Google Docs into the hangout. Click the "+ Add Apps" button at the side of the window to see the available apps. Hangouts can be restricted to users aged 18 and over if appropriate.
Differences to Skype
Google Hangouts is focused primarily on group chat, although one-on-one chat is supported. Skype enables one-on-one video calling for free but adding more than two participants requires a Skype Premium subscription. Hangouts can be broadcast live on YouTube via the Hangouts On Air service. Hangouts requires no extra software beyond the Web browser, though a dedicated Google+ app is required to access the platform on mobile devices running Android and iOS.
An information technology journalist since 2002, David Nield writes about the Web, technology, hardware and software. He is an experienced editor, proofreader and copywriter for online publications such as CNET, TechRadar and Gizmodo. Nield holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and lives in Manchester, England.