In my previous article, ”Improve collaboration by using Exchange as a chat server,” I explained how the many features of Exchange 5.5 Chat Service could add collaborative value to your company at very little cost. In this article, I’ll demonstrate the setup process by walking you through the steps for setting up a simple implementation of Exchange 5.5 Chat in a single-server environment.

Installing the Chat Service
Chat Service requires the same server software and hardware as Microsoft Exchange Server version 5.5 and runs on any computer running Windows NT Server version 4.0 and Internet Information Server (IIS) 3.0 or above. It is recommended that you have the latest NT service pack installed on the server prior to installing Chat Service.

Before installation, stop any IIS services that are running and exit any Windows programs. You install Microsoft Exchange Chat Service by running setup.exe from the Chat/Setup/I386 folder located on the Microsoft Exchange Server 5.5 CD. Respond when prompted until you reach the Select Components dialog box. In the Select Components dialog box, make the following selections, as shown in Figure A:

  • Microsoft Exchange Chat Service: the Chat Service software
  • Internet Service Manager Extensions: the IIS administrative graphical user interface for the Chat Service
  • On-line Documentation: the files containing What’s New and Chat Service Operations Guide

Figure A
Components to select during installation

The first two options are checked by default. I highly recommend installing the On-line Documentation since the information on Microsoft’s Web site pertaining to chat server is limited. In the Folder Selection dialog box, choose the folder in which you want to create the Microsoft Internet Chat program icons. In the Confirm Setup Information dialog box, read the entries to be sure you have typed them correctly. When you’re sure your setup is correct, click Next. Setup begins copying files to update your system. In the Setup Complete dialog box, choose to launch the administration tool for Chat Service, which is simply the Internet Service Manager. If you are required to restart your system, you won’t see the Setup Complete dialog box.

The Chat Service automatically starts when you restart your computer. You can make sure setup was successful by using the Internet Service Manager to verify that Chat Service is available as one of the options and then verifying that the service is available by checking that the State setting for Chat Service is “running.” If Chat Service is stopped, select the computer and choose Start Service from the Properties menu to attempt to start the service. After installation is complete, immediately install the latest service pack for Exchange since it resolves many of the bugs reported in the original Chat Service program.

Configuring the Chat Service
The good news is that no explicit configuration is necessary for a single chat server installation. That’s because a basic configuration for Chat Service consists of a single computer acting as a chat server. When Chat Service is first installed, it imposes no logon restrictions on chat users. Any user can establish an anonymous client connection with the chat server. However, many options are available to configure your Chat Service server to your specific requirements.

To access the Chat Service configuration options, open the Internet Service Manager, shown in Figure B. Select the Service Properties page for the Chat Service, as we’ve done in Figure C.

Figure B
The chat server module in Internet Service Manager

Figure C
The properties page for the chat server

The Service Properties page provides options to configure and administer Microsoft Exchange Chat Service. Service properties control options such as how many users can connect and which modes are enabled. You can create and configure individual conversations (chat channels), restrict user access to the server and to individual channels, and extend the functionality of individual channels using channel services. Spend some time exploring all the tabs and options so that you become familiar with what you can tweak. Ensure that you stop and restart the Chat Service for any changes to take effect.

Client connectivity
The most effective way to test the configuration and functionality of your Chat Service site is to connect with a chat client to your chat server and then create and join channels. Any computer that supports chat client software written for the Internet Relay Chat (IRC) or Microsoft Internet Chat (MIC) protocols can connect to the chat server. There are hundreds of IRC-based chat clients available to you on the Internet, and many of them are ActiveX- or Java-based, which allows you to connect to the chat server over your favorite Web browser.

If you prefer to stick with a Microsoft-based chat client, you can download Microsoft Chat Client from Microsoft’s Web site and distribute that freely among your chat users. For more robust and enhanced chat features, I recommend mIRC.

Once your client is installed and configured, try to connect to the chat server from a client on the same computer or a client on a different computer or test multiple clients on different computers. If chat clients can connect to your Chat Service site and the system experiences no problems creating channels, the Chat Service is configured and running correctly. Once you have it up and running, the chat application should look similar to Figure D.

Figure D
An example of chat in use

If clients experience problems connecting to the chat server, check to make sure that the Chat Service is running and that name resolution is working properly. Chat users log on to and communicate with chat servers on port 6667, the default TCP port for client-to-server communication, so ensure that this port is not being used by another process or is not being blocked by a firewall.

As you have seen, setting up an Exchange 5.5 Chat Service in a single-server system is pretty simple and can easily be accomplished using the default configuration. You begin by setting up Chat Service on a single computer, ensuring that the Chat Service is running properly and then connecting to it via your favorite IRC or MIC client. Remember that Chat Service can be configured to run in a single-server mode at first and later be reconfigured to add more servers as user traffic increases.
We look forward to getting your input and hearing your experiences regarding this interesting collaboration topic. Join the discussion below or send the editor an e-mail.