Yahoo has launched a service which allows users to cheaply make phone calls to traditional numbers, using its instant messenger service. Prior to this, only computer-to-computer calls were possible, but now people using Yahoo Messenger can also call conventional phone numbers from their computers for about $.02 per minute. Users can also create a phone number, with voicemail, that anyone can call, for a fee of about $25 per year. Yahoo has provided a range of features that are almost identical to those offered by rival service Skype, except that Yahoo does not offer video chatting and conference calling.

The new service didn't come as a surprise to analysts, who have watched the Web's other major portals -- Google, Microsoft and America Online -- rush to offer voice chatting through their instant messenger programs over the past year. Yahoo is the first to add computer-to-phone calling.

Internet phone-calling has been around for years, but the race to take it mainstream heated up in recent months when the big portals realized Skype was gaining in popularity.