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Point, click, call

With Net phoning on the rise, several VoIP leaders, including Microsoft, resurrect an idea that was pioneered two years ago: Web site icons that let people point, click and make a call.

With the popularity of Net-phoning on the rise, several VoIP leaders, including Microsoft, are resurrecting an idea that was pioneered two years ago: Web site icons that let people point, click and make a call.

The concept is similar to that of the hyperlink, a Web site staple that lets people click a specially coded word or photo and jump instantly to another area of the Internet. Through a "mail to" setup, hyperlinks can also launch a surfer's e-mail program and automatically drop in the address of a recipient. Similarly, a VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) link would let users click an icon to make a call to a preprogrammed VoIP number. VoIP uses the Net rather than a phone company's network to make calls.

The first of what late 1990s VoIP powerhouses including Vocaltec called "click-to-chat" links have resurfaced on the personal Web sites of Free World Dial-Up members. Jeff Pulver, founder of the free VoIP service, said by clicking the icon, an FWD dialer is connected instantly without having to look up a telephone number.

Microsoft's Gurdeep Singh Pall, real-time messaging and platform group general manager, said a similar feature is already available to the several "important" companies that began testing the software giant's Office Live Communications Server in August.

Two software companies are developing versions of click-to-chat for the server, which will be unveiled in October, when Microsoft will make the server more widely available, Pall said.

Pall hinted that one of the applications will be available to help with customer service at a bank. "Let's say you're having problems while looking at your statement online, you can click over to customer help," he said. He declined to name the two application makers.

A Vocaltec representative had no immediate comment, saying simply that the company no longer sells "consumer facing" products like click-to-chat.