Instant Messaging (IM) currently has an uncomfortable place in the business world. Some IT departments simply look the other way while employees use public IM clients (Yahoo, AOL, or MSN), but that leaves those companies open to legal and compliance issues. Other IT departments have banned IM all together, but that robs employees of a powerful communications tool. Still other IT departments have deployed private IM systems, but those often don’t provide as much functionality as public IM clients and connect to only a small subset of IM users. In short, IM in the enterprise is a bit of mess.

Based on the demo I saw of Microsoft’s Office Communicator 2005 at Tech-Ed, the technology for making IM a serious business tool has finally arrived (and I bet competitors will follow with similar products). Here are the things I like about Microsoft’s Communicator:

  1. The ability to securely (and simultaneously) connect to individuals using Yahoo, AOL, and MSN clients
  2. Nice integration with phone systems
  3. Broad presence capabilities
  4. Natural integration with Microsoft Office
  5. Advanced video and audio conferencing features

Of course, in order to take advantage of Communicator’s functionality, you will need Microsoft’s Live Communication Server 2005 (that’s the part where your company has to pull out its wallet). Also, the telephony integration feature will cost extra in the form of telephony CALs (on top of the cost of LCS 2005).

If you want to give Communicator a look, Microsoft offers a free trial version (you’ll need to also run a trial of LCS if you aren’t already using that product). For info on installing, using, and managing Communicator, click here.