Project Management Institute

Instant gratification

BY DAVID E. ESSEX

Instant messaging has officially gone mainstream in the business world, but do free programs make the cut for enterprise use?

Quick Facts
AIM PRO 1.4

aim.com

Requires: Pentium CPU, 128MB RAM, 20MB hard disk space, Windows 2000, XP or Vista, Internet Explorer 6.0 or later

Price: Free

AT A GLANCE REVIEW
(5imgs is best)
Ease of Use: img img img img
Feature Richness: img img img img
Project Management Support: img img
Performance: img img img img
Overall Value: img img img img

Quick Facts

MICROSOFT WINDOWS LIVE MESSENGER

get.live.com/messenger

Requires: Multimedia PC with 233MHz or faster processor, Windows XP or later, minimum 128 MB of RAM, up to 50 MB of hard disk space for installation (15 MB to run), Internet Explorer 6.0 or later

Price: Free

AT A GLANCE REVIEW
(5imgs is best)

Ease of Use: imgimgimgimgimg
Feature Richness: img img
Project Management Support: img
Performance: img img img img
Overall Value: img img img

There's an addictive allure to instant messaging (IM). More immediate than e-mail and with generally shorter messages, it gives the feel of a true conversation. In recent years, IM has broadened its reach beyond the consumer market to businesses—and project teams are no exception. I looked at the three free IM market leaders, taking special note of the following categories critical to serious use:

1.Security and privacy abilities to keep corporate secrets secret and prevent malicious use.

2.Archiving or records-management capability to maintain a record of communications, a requirement of accountability mandates such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.

3.Conferencing and communication features, including close ties with commonly used office software to integrate consumer-class IM into daily project team activities. Anytime, anywhere access via voice, video and data was also considered.

Let's be clear on expectations, however: These mainstream IM programs don't claim to compete directly with the security, archiving and collaboration features of enterprise-class products.

AIM Pro

The market share leader, AOL’s AIM, has become nearly synonymous with mainstream IM. Early last year, AOL entered a partnership with online conferencing service provider WebEx to beef up AIM with features such as multi-user audio and videoconferencing. The professional version, dubbed AIM Pro, is my pick of the three I tested, although it's somewhat more proprietary than the Microsoft and Yahoo tools I looked at. You can message other AIM, ICQ, Apple iChat and AIM Pro users as well as enterprise instant messaging solutions federated with AIM. IM Catcher, a utility for communicating with unknown users, didn't perform well in my brief test. Despite these limitations, AIM Pro has more of the conferencing, archiving and security features needed on the enterprise level. And Microsoft and Yahoo had to combine forces to match AIM’s user base, which extends to tens of millions of users worldwide.

AIM Pro is the only one that claims to encrypt its messages for what it calls business-class security as well as seamless integration with Microsoft Outlook. You can share your entire desktop in an online conference and also have messages forwarded to your cell phone as text messages, a feature unique to AIM and AIM Pro. And secure file transfers are free to AIM users.

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Impressive as AIM Pro's free collaboration tools are, the truly first-class enterprise features, such as centralized administration, require a paid subscription to WebEx. Still, the deal does give AIM Pro users some nifty tricks, including the ability to use its calendar to schedule WebEx conferences. In addition, WebEx supercharges AIM Pro by enabling users to archive messages from other public and private IM clients on your network, such as Jabber and Yahoo Messenger.

Microsoft Windows Live Messenger

Live Messenger is the most sober, business-like entry among the three—in appearance at least, not so much in function. It's still a basic IM tool, with few of the collaboration extras of AIM Pro.

One of its best features is its new Yahoo Messenger compatibility. Both programs easily recognized when I went online in the other program, and sending messages between them was a no-brainer.

Live alerts provide pop-up notification of news events, incoming mail and other events you choose. I was surprised, however, that Live Messenger is the only one that lacks a built-in calendar; AIM Pro not only has one, but integrates it with Outlook—a Microsoft product! The company notes, however, that Messenger can receive alerts for events you schedule in the calendars in Microsoft's Hotmail and upcoming Windows Live Hotmail e-mail software, as well as for news and incoming e-mails.

Yahoo Messenger

Yahoo Messenger sports the best combination of feature richness and usability. While still a basic IM tool, like its Microsoft partner, Messenger has a few features potentially of great use to project teams. For example, users can drag up to 1GB of files from their computers directly into the message window.

Messenger also lets you augment it with dozens of plug-ins—little programs for special purposes, such as searching and downloading RSS videos and podcasts. Just this past February, Yahoo deeply integrated Messenger with its popular mail service, so mail users can access the large IM community and move comfortably between offline and online status without leaving the mail screen. (Microsoft has also added similar links between Windows Live Messenger and the company's Hotmail e-mail software.)

As for my minimal criteria for business use, all three provide message histories with timestamps, the screen names of senders and receivers, and the entire text of messages. All of them also let you make phone calls from your PC to another PC over the Internet for free, and for pennies per minute from PC to a regular phone in the Yahoo and Windows messengers (but not AIM). AIM is the only one, however, that claims to encrypt all its messages, and thanks in part to the WebEx deal, its collaboration support is superior to what the others have. So although any of the three can do the basic job of text messaging, AIM Pro has more business features for the same unbeatable price: free.

 

David E. Essex is a freelance journalist specializing in IT.

Quick Facts

YAHOO MESSENGER 8.1
messenger.yahoo.com

Requires: Minimum 1.0 GHZ CPU or above, Windows Vista, XP, 2000 or 98, Internet Explorer 6.0 or later, 128MB RAM or above
Price: Free

 

AT A GLANCE REVIEW
(5imgs is best)

Ease of Use: img img
Feature Richness: img img img
Project Management Support: img
Performance: img img img img
Overall Value: img img img img

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK | JUNE 2007 | WWW.PMI.ORG

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