Microsoft and MCI said Monday they'll soon offer a service that lets customers place calls from their personal computers to regular phones. But the service will permit only outbound calls at first, even as rivals Yahoo and America Online allow instant messaging users to receive calls from conventional phones as well as to call out. Microsoft, the world's largest software maker, and MCI, the telecommunications provider being acquired by Verizon Communications, said they will begin a test run of the service in the United States this week. Broader availability is set for the first half of next year.
The service will use technology from Teleo, a small startup Microsoft acquired in August. Teleo's Internet telephony software lets people make voice calls by clicking on phone numbers appearing on a Web pages. It's the latest offering to use voice over Internet Protocol, or VoIP, technology. Calls are broken into data packets that get routed over the Internet, an approach that is cheaper and more efficient than the traditional circuit-switched phone system.