Why MS Messenger sucks at work (and an alternative)

Or at least, it sucks at work for most purposes.

Why?

  1. You’re dependent on an external server that has nothing to do with your company
  2. You’re passing your chat about work projects through a third-party server!
  3. It’s against the ToS for MS Messenger
  4. Limited message length (a complete pain for easily sharing code snippets)
  5. No offline messaging
  6. Single account, so you can only use one Messenger account at a time, potentially limiting your access to other people you know on other accounts, or meaning that everyone at work now knows your home e-mail address

Sadly, the benefits of casual use will normally outweigh these. i.e.

  1. You already use it
  2. Familiar UI
  3. All your friends already use it, and you like to talk to them (er, because they’re a “learning resource”, right?)
  4. You can send winks

OK, the last one is clearly a lie as no-one above the age of 16 sends or likes winks. Regardless, inertia alone will almost certainly carry MS Messenger from home into the workplace.

So, ideally then you’d buy Microsoft’s Live Communication Server product, install it, and continue to use the tool and interface you’re used to with the benefits of message security and ToS compliance, but now without your external friends on it. Rubbish.

So, what to do? Well, I’d advocate something along these lines:

  1. Install Wildfire Server for your business use
  2. Customise and package Miranda with some sensible default options rather than the ones it comes with (which are madness)
  3. Deploy your custom Miranda build

Miranda can connect to multiple Instant Messenger accounts at the same time, so that using the same client you can access your business IM network, your MS Messenger buddies, your Yahoo! pals, your AOL chums and your ICQ friends (although, apparently the Microsoft Office Communicator 2005 client can connect to the public MSN, AOL and Yahoo! networks).

The biggest downside of this approach is that you lose the ability to use voice and video communication over your work network, as Miranda doesn’t support using these either over the XMPP protocol (provided by the Wildfire Server) or any of the others, so this may not be suitable if tele- or video-communications are a regular feature of your instant messenger sessions (hopefully voice communication should start appearing in XMPP clients soon because Google have just published not only the protocol they use for chat but also some C++ libraries which implement it). You could use another alternative, such as using Skype, but then you lose your data security again so you’d probably be best off buying that Windows-client only MS Live Communication Server product for an exorbitant fee.

Of course, you could try and deploy a different client, for example an XMPP-specific one such as Exodus or Psi, and use transports for communication to the other protocols like MSN, Yahoo! etc. but in my experience despite these being more “correct” they tend to be more hassle than they’re worth (the coming range of Python-driven transports may change this – see PyAIM, XMPP-IRC, PyMSN-t and the Python Yahoo transport).

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9 thoughts on “Why MS Messenger sucks at work (and an alternative)”

  1. Not so far as I’m aware. There is a beta kicking about but it’s listed as “Coming Soon” on the Live Ideas page.

    I’ve not hunted it out myself as I’m quite happy with the Gaim 2.0 beta (and AdiumX on the Mac, of course). No-one I know who’s tried it has said anything positive, though.

    We did use MSN at work for a while, mostly convenience and because something oddball in the corporate firewall (I guess) was preventing any unofficial clients from connecting to the MSN network.

    Someone did deploy Live Communication Server at a later date, but the client wasn’t much cop in my opinion, plus they set ‘security restrictions’ which prevented writing hyperlinks in our messages. Seriously.

    I have an inkling that LCS does have the capability to connect to the MSN network as well, but I’m not sure as our network admin didn’t switch it on.

    I have to ask about Miranda. I fell out of love with it after a few weeks because I whilst I found the plug-ins approach appealing from a customisation point of view, the resultant inconsistency of the UI, plus the pref-happy nature of the plug-ins eventually made me step back and ask why I was persevering with it.

    What kind of customisation are you referring to? Is there a harder-core way of customising it without suffering death-by-preference-pane?

  2. Interesting information about LCS.

    About Miranda: yes, it’s open source, so first of all you can create an installer with better default preferences such as something more sensible for your company and network and bundled pre-configured plugins; if you want to go more hard core, you can create an entirely new preferences pane, just listing the things which you think are the most relevant to your business (with the option to switch back to the ‘classic’ nightmare options pane).

    But certainly out of the box, Miranda has one of the most unusable preferences panes I’ve ever seen or used.

    GAIM is theoretically good, and to be fair I’ve not used it since a 2.0 beta I think, but it’s always felt very definitely non-native, and that’s a major sticking point for deploying a Windows-based company.

  3. Personally I would go for a (sadly) separate solution for VoIP like using SIP/Asterisk and all that stuff. The nice thing however is that it can integrate with your existing PABX your company is running. There are lots of cool stuff you can do with that.

    But I have to admit I’m not an expert on this subject.

  4. I’d normally recommend dedicated clients but a problem I’ve seen is that most VoIP clients also come with normal IM capability which leads to a problem of separation of records of conversations from your normal IM, and again you’re probably going through a third party server (although maybe Asterisk At Home can help here?).

    In all honesty, VoIP is something I know very little about.

  5. The SDK for Messenger is a piece of cake and actually quite gratifying to write an in-house IM specific to your company…much easier to integrate video and IP with other SDK’s as well

  6. and ya, I know….this thread was from january 🙂 ah, back when I still had a job….those were the days…

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