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Using IM In Your Business

With the recent news of Microsoft purchasing Parlano, I had to comment on what IM, especially Jabber, can do in the corporate sector. For starters, according to TechDirt, 85% of businesses are using instant messaging in their environment. To me, this isn't too terribly surprising. And Microsoft is making a good move, in that it recognizes that incorporating real-time presence in external applications enriches the work flow, and increases productivity. I certainly don't blame Microsoft for making the move to acquire Parlano outright, and try to increase their market share in the business world. What I do blame, however, is businesses jumping ship on open and free standards for vendor lock-in. For example, at my last employment, ICQ was the preferred instant messaging of choice. I had several problems with this from the get-go.

For one, why message employees internally using a solution that leaves the local network? With ICQ, and other legacy protocols, such as MSN, and most likely this merger with Microsoft and Parlano, your message leaves your local computer to the remote servers, which then identifies the account that the message is intended for, and sends it to the user. If the recipient of the message is in the same corporate network as the sender, wouldn't it make more sense to have a local instant messaging server, this keeping all chatting and data internal? Especially if that chatting was of any sort of sensitive nature? Naturally.

The second thing that bothers me about corporate instant messaging is the lack of security. It would seem to me, that if a business needed to use instant messaging, and the messages were leaving the network to the outside world, wouldn't security be the primary concern? You would think so, but apparently, it's not so. Sure, with 3rd party plugins, and certain IM clients, security via client-to-client encryption can be enforced. But is it happening? Why not just implement a protocol that uses encryption by default, like Jabber? Then there is no need to rely on certain clients or 3rd party plugins to keep the messaging secure. It's already taken care of.

So, this question goes out to those 85% of businesses using instant messaging. When will security be your primary concern with regards to instant messaging? In other words, when will you recognize, if you haven't already, that setting up in-house Jabber servers is superior to any other solution for corporate IM? Hopefully, you take that question seriously.

Now, it's the tools that makes the business productive. If a certain tool meets the needs of the business better than other tools do, it's an obvious choice. But what tools out there in the world of IM make a business productive? Let me rephrase. What implementations in the world of IM make a business productive? For example, there are whiteboards, video chat, voice chat, multi-user chat, and file transfer to name a few. Can Jabber meet these needs to help increase the productivity of your business? Let's take a look:

  • Whiteboards are the ability to draw on a virtual surface, thus enhancing the collaboration of those involved. Rather than everyone meeting in a central location around a physical whiteboard, virtual whiteboards, accompanied with chat (text, voice or video) can reach the same goals. There is only one client that I am aware of that meets this need over a Jabber nework. It is Coccinella, a Free and Open Source client that also supports voice chat over the Jabber network. It's cross platform compatible, as well as easy to setup and use.
  • Video Chat is becoming ever more popular these days in business. I have worked at a company where video conferencing was crucial to their meetings, and the success of the business. Twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the afternoon Monday through Saturday. I have seen and heard other businesses doing the same. In fact, the company that I work for currently, introPLAY, uses video chat on occasion as needed. Can this be done over a Jabber network? Most definitely! Ultimately, you just need a client that supports video and Jabber accounts, such as iChat. There are a few of these clients out and about.
  • Voice Chat (VOIP) is the wave of the future for both land line telephony and messaging presence. It's one thing to type from one person to another in plain text, however, it's completely another to hear their voice. More can be said in a shorter time, and sensing voice tone can be crucial where the same in text could be misinterpreted. Several clients support voice over IP, including the Coccinella client mentioned above. Extending VOIP further with Jingle or Asterisk installations bring full blown telephony to the office with no price at all, and great support.
  • Multi-user chat (MUC) can be crucial when offices are separated, or meeting in person won't suffice. Of course, getting things done at your desk during a MUC session can make all the difference in the world increasing productivity. Some offices have found that local IRC meets the need just fine, of which several clients that support Jabber accounts also support IRC. However, many Jabber clients support MUC over Jabber without the need for another tool. My favorite being Gajim.
  • Lastly, file transfer can be a nice tool to those who don't have access to SCP, FTP or even email attachments. Sending files, be it documents, images, audio, video, binaries, zipped, archived, whatever, can make getting what needs to be shared easy. Every client that I have ever used supports file transfers with ease. This should be a no brainer.

Again, it's the proficiency and effectiveness of a company that's going to make it successful. With the right tools, especially in the instant messaging department, businesses should be able to get the most done with a minimal amount of effort. Jabber makes this easy. So, while Microsoft and Parlano may be "innovating" the IM space, there are tools already there to utilize. Besides, who's going to complain about free? 🙂

{ 12 } Comments

  1. Jerome Gotangco | August 31, 2007 at 10:56 pm | Permalink

    IM shouldn't be hard. Let me play the devil's advocate. With any ordinary IM service out there, be it free or non-free you can still utilize OTR and have the transaction in TOR if security is always a concern.

  2. Frederik | September 1, 2007 at 1:45 am | Permalink

    Concerning Whiteboarding: Inkscape has a component called Inkboard which enables whiteboarding over XMPP. With this maturing and getting more stable, it may become the most powerful whiteboarding solution out there: It enables all the powerful features of Inkscape over a Jabber network. So when it comes to complex drawings, this approach of an IM-enabled vector drawing program may be superior over whiteboard-enabled IM applications.

  3. Jon Cooper | September 1, 2007 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    While I am no MS apologist by a long streak, I do have the upmost respect for their corporate messaging tools. Office Communicator runs off your AD/Exchange environment, providing SSO IM communication with anyone on your network (and no, nothing leaves the corporate network towards MS servers) and lets you federate other organisations with Office Communicator. This lets you IM colleagues and partners, still within the confines of a controlled LDAP infrastructure. Ok an open standard would be a great dropin, but would you still get Single Sign On in Windows and other platforms, along with simple federation with external companies, but limiting IM to those federated parties (i.e. restricting how far your users can IM)?

  4. visik | September 1, 2007 at 3:36 am | Permalink

    I'm planning to write a video conference software probably based on jabber that supports whiteboards cobrowsing app-sharing and-desktop sharing
    I need some suggestion on which software improve or if it's the case to start another from scratch
    and which specification to implement (since jingle isn't even in draft)

  5. erik | September 1, 2007 at 8:51 am | Permalink

    So, I'm supposed to have like 5 different clients running all the time instead of properly integrated solution that the competitors offer already? Also, how do the directory services work? Centralized authentication? How does all this integrate into PIM?

    You realize that Outlook + a few other products were wonderful on these aspects many years ago already?

  6. Anonymous | September 1, 2007 at 10:23 am | Permalink

    Regarding whiteboarding, there's SamePlace, a Firefox extension that let interact with contacts on real-time shared web applications: chess, maps, whiteboard, slideshow, etc.

    Here's a demo.

  7. Anonymous | September 1, 2007 at 10:27 am | Permalink

    Regading whiteboarding, there's SamePlace, a Firefox extension that let interact with contacts on real-time shared web applications: chess, maps, whiteboard, slideshow, etc.

    Here's a demo.

  8. Pharao | September 2, 2007 at 1:26 am | Permalink

    a year ago as I got my root server I installed a jabber server (wildfire to be more precise) for my direct partners and for my dad's direct partners (both of us are self employed but working for the same company).

    it's just for a quick "hi there, I would need this and this and this, could you help me or do you have it?"

    even if it is encrypted I won't let them send sensitive client data over the net. (working as financial consultant - I'm sure my clients / clients of my employees would not be happy to see anything regarding their money on some website)

    But I have to admit that this saved us some time. No phone ringing while in a meeting just for "could you bring 2 handouts of this product to our next meeting - I don't have any" and no disruption while doing something important just for "2 flyers"

    So even in "non IT sectors" IM can save you time and provide some real comfort.

  9. sander | September 3, 2007 at 4:32 am | Permalink

    fyi: iaxclient, the library that Coccinella uses for VoIP, added video support since recently. So, it may not take too long until Coccinella also supports video conferencing. B-)

  10. Jason | September 4, 2007 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    @Jon Cooper:

    LDAP, and you have (nearly) every platform.

  11. Piter | September 19, 2007 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Thank you for the useful informations. I really enjoyed reading all of your posts. It?s interesting to read ideas, and observations from someone else?s point of view? makes you think more. So please keep up the great work. Best regards...

  12. sharp aquos | December 19, 2007 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    While I am no MS apologist by a long streak, I do have the upmost respect for their corporate messaging tools. Office Communicator runs off your AD/Exchange environment, providing SSO IM communication with anyone on your network (and no, nothing leaves the corporate network towards MS

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