From today Google is adding free streamed video and voice chat to the free Gmail email program, known as Googlemail in the UK.

As with its recent fee-based addition of Video for Business, Google cited growing popularity of video in everyday life as the reason it's added video to Gmail. Google pointed to WinterGreen Research data suggesting the market for webcams will grow in value from $1.2bn in 2006 to $6.2bn by 2013.

Dave Armstrong, head of European marketing at Google, said: "It's integrated into Gmail so it's very easy to run on people's machines or other machines provided they've got a webcam. Video is a core part of how people communicate online these days."

Armstrong said users could switch between email, IM and video in order to better explain arguments or for demonstration purposes. With support for H.264 video at 300x200 widescreen displays and simultaneous text chat, the service could also, arguably, be a substitute for certain types of instruction.

The service supports Apple Macs and Windows PCs on all Gmail-supported web browsers and only takes a few clicks to set up. However, to run the capability both systems will also need to allow a 2MB client download at each end, a restriction that could deter some usage, for example in locked-down environments. Also, there is no facility for AV chats to be recorded.

Still, Gmail's huge popularity should mean that the added function provides a boost for video chats and more competition for Skype, Microsoft NetMeeting and other basic services.

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