Last week on Gizmodo I came across the SIPphone, a desktop phone with an Ethernet jack instead of a regular phone jack -- a great idea for far away friends who both have broadband Internet service. Each phone has a set phone number, which other SIPphone callers can call to reach you.
The idea is this -- you and a far away friend split the cost of two SIPphones for $130. You keep one phone and send the other phone to the friend with whom you spend lots of cash calling with long distance. Great idea if you both have differing operating systems (say Windows and Mac OS) and make lots of calls. It'd be especially attractive for say one friend in the US and another in New Zealand, since in the long run it would save vs. international long distance.
Of course, if you're a Mac OS X user, iChat AV (in public beta, soon to be sold for $30) does pretty much the same thing with optional video capabilities. In fact, my friend Andy in London and I have just about weekly voice chats via iChat AV with pretty good sound quality, saving us tons of money over international long distance calls. I can tell you that it's a great feeling being able to call Andy whenever he's around and have a voice (or video) chat rather than pounding out an email.
Yahoo Messenger seems to at least offer voice chatting capabilities, but it's much more like a walkie-talkie instead of a regular telephone with full-duplex like iChat AV. Yuck! Yeah, it works but it's just another hassle... I want to have my service act just like my telephone does.
Which brings me back to the SIPphone. Yes it's a bit more costly than software for your Mac, PC or Linux box, but I see it as the kind of dedicated, nearly-brainless technology that just works. SIPphone is perfect for two or more computer users regardless of the OS they run and only depends on your cable connection: not your Mac, PC or Linux box, which for the right people, could be a perfect solution.