The company introduced its Internet Call Manager telephone service, which is a "call waiting" service that identifies an incoming caller on a computer screen while the receiver is connected to the Internet. Besides caller-ID information, the user can decide to take the call, send it to voice mail, or forward the call with a click of the mouse.
Another intriguing feature of the service is something called "remote call control." Users can monitor calls going to their home phones from work or vice-versa without having to tell the program the IP address of where to send the caller-ID information.
It used to be that incoming callers would get a busy signal as you downloaded that latest version of your Web browser because call waiting services provided by the phone companies didn't work with online services. Now users can get calls by paying a monthly fee for Internet Call Manager and installing a free software program but won't need any extra equipment because the system uses a proprietary call management technology and software that's installed downline from the telephone companies.
However, to answer a call, users will still need to disconnect from their ISPs; if they have a second phone line, though, the call can be redirected. Eventually, once Internet telephony quality reaches an acceptable level, the company says users will be able to answer the phone from their computers.
Company officials say it will take consumer demand to drive the installation of the needed equipment. Depending on the level of demand, within the span of several months, the service will be available to users of Windows 3.1x, Windows 95 and Windows NT users, although a Mac version is planned.