Moving to Jabber in the workplace

Jabber Journal Issue #21 is out, and with it come lots of links to Jabber servers and a link to r.i.pienaar’s post about Jive Messenger (a free, Java-based Jabber server).

There are a good number of easy-to-install Jabber servers these days (Jive Messenger is incredibly easy to install on both Linux and Windows machines, and I’d recommend it without reservation), but providing decent clients is a different issue.

If you want to roll out an internal IM-system, but can’t afford MS or AOL, then Jabber is probably the next-best choice in terms of servers, but no Jabber-only client I’ve seen can match the usability or feature-set of the current MSN client (let alone the ease of install and built-in access to Active Directory).

Before we starting crossing clients off our list, lets run through some features that an IM client in the workplace should have before they can be adopted:

  • MUST run on Windows 2000/XP
  • MUST be user-friendly to the level that non-technical drones can pick it up as easily as they use Windows/MSN Messenger
  • MUST support client-client file transfer
  • MUST have a low-cost pricing system (if not free)
  • MUST be able to provide SSL communications
  • MUST provide local logging of conversations (chat history)
  • MUST be able to deploy the correctly-configured client easily
  • SHOULD support video/audio transfer (e.g. webcam chat)
  • SHOULD have a server-based update mechanism to force upgrades
  • SHOULD be in active development

Well, that’s a pretty hefty list, so whilst I’m not really expecting anything to actually meet it, I’m certainly not letting the clients off the hook 🙂

Despite everything else in the list, ultimately the user interface will be the deal breaker. Not pretty enough? You’re out. Not consistent? Failure. Too complicated? No chance.

If we look at the most popular Jabber clients for Windows, we see Exodus, Rival and Psi; none of then have particularly beautiful user interfaces, and are all quite hard to get started with. Of the three I prefer Psi, because it’s very clear what’s going on: “here is your roster list, click on it and do stuff”, but it’s inconsistent in places, minimal and very unlikely to win over any MSN users.

a screenshot of pandion

Looking further afield, there are two other noteworthy Jabber clients, Pandion and neosmt. Pandion is excellent; its user-interface is very friendly to those coming from an MSN background; it’s free for internal use in a company; it’s also brand-able because the UI is provided by HTML and CSS rendered by IE. It has a limited implementation of the XMPP standard, but it doesn’t really matter too much, because all the core features are there but it does have a very nasty bug which disconnects your client if, for example, your roster is too big and takes too long to deliver. neosmt, on the other hand, is a very good client with a fuller protocol implementation as well as other great (but proprietary) things like whiteboarding and audio/video sharing, automatic update checking and so on – all things which would be useful in a company. The user interface is pretty good, but suffers a major blow by actually having the main menu hidden away under a cryptic ”>>” icon on the title bar which doesn’t even look like a button and not (properly, at least) supporting JISP iconsets, so no MSN emoticons for all our poor we-fear-change clueless employees.

a screenshot of neosmt

If we cast out net wider to the multi-protocol clients we see things such as GAIM, Trillian and Miranda. In their default states, we take one look at GAIM and Miranda and instantly throw them away (Miranda can be made to look much prettier, but not without tweaking and so on, and no-one’s going to configure and rebuild the installer the way I want for me). Trillian is, er, definitely acceptable by the MSN crowd, but sadly the free version doesn’t support Jabber and Trillian Pro is $25/client, so pfffff to that.

Which leaves us back with neosmt and Pandion. neosmt is clearly the superior client (with more of the features listed above than any other client I looked at), but harder to use and a sea change from the clients most people are going to be used to. Pandion has the basic messaging and user interface down to a T, but little else (and that nasty bug to boot). Clearly a middle ground would be absolutely perfect, but is pretty unlikely.

In the end, selecting a client will come down to the needs of the users who are going to be using it, but I think giving neosmt a run and falling back to Pandion if neosmt proves unacceptable seems like a reasonable position to take for rolling out Jabber clients on a Windows network, and will probably be the approach I’d take.

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17 thoughts on “Moving to Jabber in the workplace”

  1. As a random note, if you find Trillian Pro’s Jabber does meet your criteria, there’s most likely a way to arrange site licenses for a company. Buying a $25 license for every single person would be insane.

    That said, I’ve heard rumors of someone writing an MSN Messenger server gateway; basically a c2s component for an XMPP server which translates MSNP into XMPP. I think it’s pretty beta-quality right now, but it might be worth checking out. (Alas, I don’t have a URL handy, but poking around jdev might produce something.) If you can find that, it would let folks simply use their existing MSN Messenger clients.

  2. Yeah, trying to arrange some kind of site license is probably possible, but obviously I’m far too lazy to pursue such a thing 🙂

    I know there is a C# app on jabberstudio which effectively runs as an MSN Messenger proxy so that users can use the MSN Messenger client for connecting to a Jabber server, which I tried out a few months ago, but it’s now years old, not under active development, and doesn’t work with the newer MSN Messenger protocols (booo!). I think that’s the one you mean, although I will also have a look around to see if there’s anything newer.

  3. That is, I fear, probably the one I was thinking of. I didn’t realize it was abandonware. 🙁

    *snrk* Maybe that’s something we should write at Cerulean; an IM-translator proxy. Log onto Jabber from an MSN client, log onto MSN from an AIM client, etc…

    Okay, maybe not.

    That said, of the Jabber clients you’ve looked at, Rival seems the one that reminds me the most of MSN. (We sort of tend to be off in our own little world of usability concepts with Trillian.)

  4. Coccinella meets most of your requirements. So I will only describe the things it does not meet (fully) yet:
    * user friendly: this is a work in progress; many work is already done on this part, but more to do of course 🙂
    * audio/video transfer: Coccinella can initiate Gnomemeeting sessions (future versions of Gnomemeeting will also support SIP!), but AFAIK Gnomemeeting is not available for Windows people…

  5. Actually, I had no idea that The Coccinella was cross-platform; I’d always assumed it was Linux-only. That’ll teach me to pay more attention 🙂

    The Coccinella has some interesting features, and the upcoming SIP is certainly something worth keeping an eye on, but when it runs on Windows it’s painfully obvious that it’s a non-native app (even without using it), and so much of the GUI behaviour is non-standard for Windows (although standard for Tcl of course, which is what I’m guessing it is). Certainly the Gnomemeeting stuff is interesting, and I think there has actually been some work on getting Windows Netmeeting and Gnomemeeting to play together but I don’t know how far it’s got, but for the moment it’s a Linux-only feature.

    Thanks for pointing it out though, if only for showing me up for not knowing it ran on Windows and Mac 🙂

  6. Rachel, yeah, I’m sure you guys are just dying to get into the proxy market 😉

    Rival looks pretty acceptable when you’re just looking at the roster, but as soon as you start to use it you realise that’s it’s really nowhere near good enough, with some bits skinned, others not, inconsistent UI and so on.

  7. I’ve been using Neosmt as the client for a internal Jabber server. Once you get over the “odd” menu access is really is a very good client. File tranfer is quick and meeting rooms are simple to administer. It did have some issues with file locking on older versions but they seem to have sorted it in the latest release.

    Not exactly ready for a full corporate deployment as it won’t run in a locked down user environment without modification of local file access rights on XP / 2000. It also needs a automated user settings methodology but still a *very* good client. If you want a full corporate solution then perhaps investigation of their kbee product might be in order.

  8. That’s excellent info, thanks very much!

    I’ve certainly looked at their kbee product, and it seems quite impressive.

  9. Our Jive on Linux server and Exodus on Windows clients setup is working well. Jive supports server-managed rosters very well and is very functional in other areas and easy to administer.

  10. Yes, Jive is excellent, and like I said in my post, I’d recommend it time and time again, but clients are a different matter.

  11. I do not use MSN Messenger at all, having found Yahoo! Messenger to be superior and easier to use (plus most people I know use Y!M). That said, Spark (by the Jive Messenger people) is a decent client, SSL/TLS connections, file transfer, password change, profile change, etc. The UI is clearly not Y!M quality, but it is still quite usable.

    We also use JETI, a Java-based client. Jeti definitely needs some UI work, and we have not yet used it with SSL/TLS. The advantage with Jeti is that it doesn’t require an installation.

  12. The last time I used it, it was completely obvious that it was a port from a Linux application, and that’s not acceptable if you’re going to be rolling out to all business layers in a Windows-based company.

    I see there’s a new version out though, so I’ll download and take another look.

  13. I have been on the same search myself (wish I had found this page!!) – but have come to exactly the same conclusion. Those users who need Video in the organisation will be deployed neos, everyone else Pandion. Its a shame we can’t have the GUI look and feel of Pandion with neos functionality!!

  14. I used neosmt for almost a year, but switched to Pandion. Neosmt has some nasty performance problem when you get more contacts connected, and pandion with the same list has been rock solid for me.

  15. How has this been for you? With the completion of a more stable Jingle, how is the client search Going? Did you ever settle on a client that met your needs?

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