Google has integrated AOL's AIM instant-messaging service into its Gmail web-based email client, the company announced on Tuesday.

Gmail has had its own chat service since February 2006, but now Gmail users will be able to connect to AIM through a drop-down menu on the Gmail web page, Google said. Gmail users can sign into AIM through the "set status here" menu, Google said. AIM contacts and Gmail chat will appear on the same menu.

Google said it was rolling out the new feature on the English version of Gmail on Tuesday. AIM access will be available on other language versions of Gmail soon, the company said.

"We're always looking for new and useful ways to help our users connect with friends, family, and coworkers," Google said in a statement.

The ability to connect to AIM through Gmail is a "very big deal," said Michael Osterman, founder of messaging analysis firm Osterman Research. About 75 per cent of people who use IM in business settings use AIM or the AIM enterprise product, he said.

Now, when people are using Gmail, they can see if the people they're sending email to are available for live chat on AIM instead, he said. "You've been given another option for communicating with people," he said. "It's one more way to talk to them."

Gmail users can keep a history of chats and emails together in so-called conversation threads.