Softphones Reviewed: Series Overview

Free softphones have changed the telephony landscape. Born of instant messaging technology, programs that carry phone calls (and video) over the Internet have become ubiquitous – available to anyone with a broadband ‘Net connection. Since they’re typically free to use, as well as to obtain – at least among members of a given ‘service’ – they’ve changed how people think about ‘using the phone.’

As more and more companies see business opportunities in this world of almost-free calling, the number of available PC-based telephony clients (softphones) has multiplied. How to choose?

Over the coming months, the staff of will examine and work with as wide a selection of these products and services as practical – endeavoring to make our evaluations as comparative as possible:

Here’s our projected list:

  • FWD
  • Gizmo Project
  • Google Talk
  • MindSpring
  • NetZeroPhone
  • Skype
  • Yahoo Messenger
  • YakForFree

We’ll start with the three that have clients for both Mac OS X and Windows – Skype, YakForFree, and Gizmo Project – testing both client versions. The Windows-only phones will follow.

While most, if not all, currently available softphones are capable of transporting video as well as audio, we will not be testing the video capabilities.

We will be compiling a standard table of product features for each softphone – which can be compared side by side. We will give our admittedly subjective evaluations of the usability of each product’s user interface, its audio quality, and its help facilities. We’ll also look in some detail at the multi-party voice conferencing capabilities, and we will test and evaluate each product’s system for calling numbers on the PSTN (the traditional, circuit-switched telephone system).

The primary testing will be done by the same two people – Jeff Goldman in California and Ted Stevenson in Connecticut – on home broadband (DSL) connections. They will use identical stereo headsets with built-in microphone. Where they are available, we will test Macintosh clients as well as Windows. (No Linux or Pocket PC units are available to us.)

If you have questions or comments, please contact us at

       the VoIP-folks.

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