Google has reintroduced its text messaging service for Gmail after a failed launch in late October. Once again, Gmail users will be able to send text messages to their friends' cell phones right from their email window using the SMS protocol. For the moment, Google says you can only send texts to U.S.-based cell phone numbers, but you can send them from anywhere in the world.
To try out the new feature, click the Google Labs link in your Gmail window. Then, find the feature called "Text Messaging (SMS) in Chat;" click the "Enable" radio button, then "Save Changes" and you're ready to go!
To start texting, let your mouse hover over a contact in Gmail Chat. You then click on "Video & More" and select SMS. Alternatively you can switch to SMS from an open chat window via the "Options" menu. To text a friend who isn't in your Gmail Chat contact list just start typing their phone number into the Chat search box and select "Send SMS".
After you've selected SMS, a pop-up window appears where you can enter your contact's phone number (or name if you already saved their phone number), which is then saved for next time. Text messages are sent from a unique phone number assigned to your Gmail account; it uses Montana's 406 area code, which Google points out spells G0O. From that point forward your friends can send SMS messages directly to your Gmail chat as well as receive them.
Once you start chatting via SMS, Google will keep that setting until you manually switch back to regular chat or close the chat window. This is an important point, because from the Gmail window text messages are free, but depending on their cell plan your friend may be paying through the nose every time they send and receive a message.
However, if you find you are on the receiving end of too many Gmail texts, Google has you covered. Replying to a Gmail SMS with "BLOCK" prevents that user from sending you messages via Gmail, and replying "STOP" blocks all Gmail-initiated text messages. Google doesn't say whether you can elect to start receiving Google SMS messages again so you might want to think carefully before using the "STOP" option.
Other IM services-including AIM, Windows Live, and Yahoo--have provided SMS capability for some time, so it's about time that Gmail got with the program and expanded the offerings for its chat service.
SMS is just one of many new features that Google has been rolling out for Gmail users in the past few months. Recent additions to the email window include To Do lists, Google Docs and Calendar widgets, video chat, and a variety of new themes to give Gmail that personal touch.