We just had a video call on Skype tonight with everyone at Lanette's brother Kreg's house (including Lanette's parents who happened to be there). It's just amazing that we can hear and see them from our computer - and it's a free call from anywhere in the world. Having this option for communicating with family really makes a difference in thinking about physically being so far away, although nothing absolutely replaces a face-to-face conversation.
There are other services available now, but we've been using Skype. It does audio conferencing, and if you have a webcam it can do video conferencing (only one-to-one). You go to their web site and sign up for a Skype account for free and then you can call anyone in the world for free computer-to-computer as long as both parties have the free Skype account. You will want to check the Skype site for details on minimum requirements for your computer and your internet access.
If you've got Skype, you can add our Skype names to your Skype contacts list:
I'm using the built-in video camera on my MacBook Pro laptop. We bought a Logitech QuickCam Communicate STX webcam for Lanette's Mac PowerBook G4. It's listed for $49.99, but I found it for $39.99 somewhere online.
A hint for others using Macintosh computers: Even though the packaging of many webcams claim they only work with Windows systems, the free software macam can make just about any webcam work just fine on a Mac. Before buying your webcam, check the list of compatible webcams at the macam web site.
For those willing to experiment, I've been dabbling with some other web conferencing options and wouldn't mind finding others to try some of these with me.
vRoom from Elluminate: free video chat for up to 3 people
iVisit: free download software (Mac or Windows) allows 8-party video conferences
Qnext: free download "universal instant messenger" software allows 4-party video conferences
I'm keeping a list of options like these and more in this site's Web Links area.