Google is set to tighten the link between Gmail and Google Talk by allowing users to conduct instant messaging sessions from within the mail service's interface.

In future, users will not need any separate software to use Google Talk from within Gmail. The rollout, limited to users of the English-language interface, will be completed in a matter of weeks, said Gmail product manager Keith Coleman.

Users will see a new list of contacts, from which IM sessions can be started. IM windows open up right on the browser, which can be either IE 6.0 and up, or Firefox 1.0 and above. Support for other browsers will be added later.

Google developed this feature to address the "arbitrary separation" that exists between e-mail and IM applications, a source of frustration and inconvenience for users, Coleman said.

However, users wanting to use Google Talk's voice feature will have to use the IM service's own interface, because, at least for now, Gmail will only host text chat IM sessions, he said.

Coleman admitted that it would be an "obvious" move for Google to extend the Google Talk voice chat capabilities to Gmail, but said that the company isn't committing to doing that at this point.

Google Talk sessions conducted on Gmail will be saved by default along with e-mail messages. Users have the option of turning off this functionality to prevent the system from keeping a record of a text chat.

The company launched Google Talk in August of last year and made it a requirement for its users to have a Gmail account. Both services are free and both are in beta, or test, periods.

When Google Talk was launched, it included a set of initial links with Gmail, including identical log-in information and the ability to access the Gmail inbox from within the Google Talk interface and send e-mail messages from there. In addition, Google Talk alerts users when new messages are received in their Gmail account. Moreover, the two services share a single list of contacts.