Google Voice. Situation: It's a pretty awesome competitor to good ol' Skype, especially when you use its crazy powers to forward calls from your magical number to physical locations all over the world. I, for one, use Google voice to get into my own apartment. Ringing me up on the ol' call box in front of my condo complex calls my Google Voice number (local calls only!), which in turn buzzes up my cell phone which, in turn, lets me go home.
That's just one interesting use of an otherwise awesome service. There are many more. Problem: There are not nearly as many apps--Web-based or downloadable--that allow you to interact with Google Voice in unique, cool ways. I've scrounged together five for your enjoyment but, honestly, we're scraping the barrel this week in terms of available software.
So, that said, go register a Google Voice number. And while you're doing that, start skimming this article for awesome new ways to use the service!
There's really no good name for this little app per se, but what it does is a welcome bit of functionality for your system. This Adobe AIR-based app sticks a little Google Voice box right on your Windows desktop, which gives you easy access to your Google contacts and calling options without ever forcing you to first fire up a browser.
The creators of said app put it best: "But one thing we noticed is that people keep closing their Web browser, or navigating away from the Google Voice Web site. When that happens they miss messages, don't use Google Voice when they could for outgoing calls and text messages, and generally don't use it much." With the Google Voice App, that problem is easily solved!
Sick of Adobe AIR? I don't blame you. Well, this app is a full-fledged, non-Adobe-based piece of third-party software that supports a ton of helpful Google Voice features. Most importantly, it transplants the Web-based Google Voice to your standard Windows desktop. Beyond that, you get easy access to your contacts list, the ability to dial any numbers you want, and Google voice's messaging features, amongst others, all located within an easy-to-access button on your taskbar. GVNotifier could not make Google Voice any easier to use if it tried.
So, suppose you're a little more portable and don't have the time, inclination, or ability to install all kinds of apps on whatever system it is you're using. That's fine. You should still be able to find out what's going on in your Google Voice account.
The Web app GVMax thus presents a simple way to connect your Google Voice activities--like incoming SMS messages or voicemails--to your external life. Sign up for the free service, and you'll receive a notification in one of many ways (Twitter, IM, emails, etc) whenever a new message hits your Google account. And, better yet, you can start up Google calls directly via IM as well, in addition to other cool tricks like mass-texting batches of people on your Google contacts list or transforming your Google Voice account into some kind of mass-relay system for a ton of different numbers.
Of course, no list of Google Voice accessibility would be complete without a means for accessing the service within Google's own Chrome browser. The Google Voice extension, as you might expect, serves that purpose perfectly. With but one click of a button in Chrome, you'll get quick access to dialing and text messaging via your Google Voice account, as well as a listing of any messages that might have floated their way to your Google Voice inbox. Phone numbers will also turn into Google Voice-able links during your Web surfing--if not, just highlight them with your mouse and a "click to call" popup will automatically make itself known!
What the heck is Sipgate? It's not a program that allows you to interact with Google Voice per se and, by that, I mean that it's not designed to be an end-all, be-all conduit for your various Google Voice actions like similar programs listed above. What it will allow you to do, with a little clever modification, is make free VoIP calls straight through your desktop PC.
How is that different from the aforementioned apps? Sipgate allows you to have true, Skype-like calling through your desktop. As for my own Google Voice account, whenever I use the other programs on this list to "place a call," it merely connects my cell phone to an outbound number--I can't actually talk to people with a desktop headset. Not without Sipgate, that is!
David Murphy (@ Acererak) is a technology journalist and former Maximum PC editor. He writes weekly columns about the wide world of open-source as well as weekly roundups of awesome, freebie software. Befriend him on Twitter, especially if you have an awesome app or game you're dying to recommend!