Let’s face it: The effectiveness of instant messaging (IM) as a communication tool for the enterprise is a matter of personal opinion. For some, peer-to-peer channels like IM are communication godsends; others just can’t see the benefit of yet another way to hassle someone. However, if there’s one thing that people can agree on, it’s that the current interoperability problems between some of the most popular IM clients is impeding the use of IM for the people who actually care about it.

In his recent article, “Instant messaging: AOL and Microsoft square off,” TechRepublic columnist Tim Landgrave examined the interoperability conflict between AOL’s Instant Messenger (AIM) and MSN’s Messenger Service. Based on comments in response to the article, many TechRepublic members recommend alternative IM clients that are effective communication tools and void of the interoperability problems and the quarrel that stirs between AOL and MSN. This article highlights some member recommendations for more versatile IM tools.

The problem at hand
Jared Hainline uses three different IM clients to communicate via IM for business correspondence. Internally, the client of choice is ICQ, and it works well across the company. However, whenever Hainline needs to chat with a contact outside the organization, he must choose between ICQ, MSN Messenger Service, and AIM. But, writes Hainline, “It is really not that big of a deal.”

Daniel Moyer isn’t as unperturbed. The lack of a standard transmission protocol between IM clients is an aggravating fact of instant messaging. “Have you ever had three or four IM clients running at the same time, bouncing pop-ups all over your screen? It can be quite maddening, I assure you.”

Moyer, along with other members, calls for a third-party product that can integrate a range of IM services. Although third-party clients require frequent software updates because services often change their protocols, Moyer believes that they’re worth the effort to avoid a deluge of annoying pop-ups.

Third-party recommendations
Luckily, there are tools available to allay some of the interoperability problems that occur between some of the big IM clients—albeit with one catch: Most of them can only integrate text messaging functions. Voice or file-sharing capabilities are usually sacrificed with a third-party tool.

Despite these limitations, many TechRepublic members are using third-party clients. Ken Conrad recommends a product called Jabber because of its strong security features. He wrote, “It allows businesses to utilize instant messaging on their WAN/LAN/VPN without confidential communications passing outside the firewall.”

Gurumurthy Venkataraman recommends MIMonline—an Indian-made solution that integrates the available services well, including AIM, MSN, and Yahoo! Messenger.

Because its small footprint gives him a lot of control of the application, R. Walunas likes NetLert’s client. The client’s security is also an attractive feature.

Odigo is a software company that produces IM solutions for other companies under a different skin and logo. TechRepublic member Gustavo de Negreiros Dumitresco claims that the first solution they made, Odigo IM, is a good option. “Although it does not allow file transfer and other options between clients, it covers the basics….I consider it a good alternative, since it is faster to load in the memory…”

Do-it-yourself IM
AIM. MSN. Yahoo. Whatever. According to Web developer Bucky Kaufman, businesses should steer clear of any consumer IM product because they carry numerous potential security holes. Kaufman believes that the most secure and optimal messaging solutions for the enterprise are ones that are proprietary and developed in-house.

“It’s easy to do, and even the most novice of developers can learn how.”

Know any good IM clients?

Are there any more alternatives to the big-name IM solutions? Have you had success developing one in-house? Join the discussion and share your thoughts.