Google Talk offers an easy, inexpensive way to send instant messages.

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If you're looking for an easy, inexpensive way to send instant messages, Google Talk may be right for you. While it doesn't offer as many features as AOL Instant Messenger, Yahoo Messenger or Microsoft Windows Live Messenger, Google Talk messaging is uncluttered with ads and free to use.

Once you download Google Talk, you're set for instant messaging from your computer or through a browser, although only with other Google Talk or Gmail users.

Google Talk is one of the newer competitors for the IM market. It was launched in 2005, following AIM in 1997 and MSN Messenger (now Windows Live Messenger) and Yahoo Messenger in 1999. So far, it lags far behind those well-known services in users. In January 2008, for example, Windows Live Messenger had 235 million unique visits, while Google Talk had fewer than 5 million [source: comScore].

But Google Talk has its fans among users who want a straightforward IMing service. And although Google Talk started lean, it keeps adding features like file transmission through chat windows, PC-to-PC voice calls and voice mail, emoticons, Google Talk on your Google home page, and chatback for your blog [source: CNet].

What are some of the features of Google Talk? How do you use it? And, what's Google Talk Gadget? Let's start with the basics.