In almost every early science-fiction movie and television series, the characters at some point talk to each

 other over a videophone. Indeed, the first videophone was demonstrated back in 1955. And by the 1960s, AT&T was showing them off at trade shows.

Then as now, few people were interested. In order for video phone calls to come into general use, they have to be easy and they have to be cheap (something that AT&T’s trade show phones were not). The widespread use of computers now makes that possible through the use of web cams. Of course the still unanswered question is “does anybody care?” We think many do.

Microsoft has recently entered the lists with two new desktop web cameras, the “Lifecam VX-5000,” for $50 and the higher resolution “Lifecam Show” for $100. Microsoft doesn’t make many hardware items, so they must think there’s a future in this. We tried out both cameras with phone calls and they were extremely easy to use.

Although the software initially tries to set you up to use Microsoft’s “Windows Live Messenger,” we tried using it with “Skype” and the new “Google Video Chat” and they worked just as well, which is to say the worked beautifully. In all three cases the calls were also free. Joy called a woman in India who was featured in a magazine story she wrote a year ago. They had never seen each other before, but they did now. She next called Lorelle VanFossen, in Oregon, one of the earliest WordPress bloggers. Lorelle noted that young people tend to be blasé about video chatting, but for older people it’s a continuing source of amazement. (The young people will get excited about it when they get their first Dick Tracy video wrist phone.)

Besides video chatting, a webcam can also be used to for blogging. In the early days, we heard a lot about teenage girls setting up a camera in their home and letting voyeurs watch them all day. Today, the users are more main stream.

A business user can stream live video directly to a client to show how a product works. We were recently contacted by a Chicago advertising agency that has a Microsoft web camera on everyone’s desk. A chat window below their picture shows whether they are available for a call right away. Since the cameras were live, as they say, it must also cut down on goofing off or snoozing at work. If you want to see the ad agency setup in use, go to

Microsoft’s web cameras themselves are tiny, about twice the size of a USB flash drive. They have magnetic and standard base mounts and can be moved around easily. You can read the complete specs at


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