Get IT Done: Use Windows 2000's Microsoft Chat application as a technical support tool

Provide Windows 2000 technical support with Microsofts Chat application

It’s important to avoid communication problems when you’re helping a novice user troubleshoot a problem. Miscommunication causes misunderstanding, and you both could end up on a wild goose chase. Fortunately, Windows 2000 has a tool that you can use to immediately convey detailed instructions to a novice—a LAN-based messaging tool called Microsoft Chat. I’ll show you how to launch and use Windows 2000 Professional’s Microsoft Chat as a communication aid for remote technical support operations. I’ll also show you how to customize Microsoft Chat’s look and feel.

The ClipBook Viewer alternative
In the article "Windows 2000's ClipBook Viewer makes a handy remote troubleshooting tool," I explained how to use ClipBook Viewer as a troubleshooting aid by using it to remotely view error messages and configuration files via screen shots pasted into the ClipBook Viewer and then shared across the network. This technique allows you to bypass communication problems that can crop up when asking a novice to explain error messages.

Launching Microsoft Chat
While Microsoft Chat is a part of the standard Windows 2000 installation procedure, Setup doesn’t place an icon for the application on the Start menu. This omission is unfortunate because it essentially hides Microsoft Chat, and most folks never make use of it. To launch Microsoft Chat, you must access the Run dialog box, type Winchat.exe, and click OK.

Create a shortcut to Microsoft Chat
To make Microsoft Chat more accessible, you can create a shortcut to its executable file (C:\Winnt\System32\ Winchat.exe) and then place it on the Start menu.

When you first launch Microsoft Chat, the NetDDE Agent dialog box will appear in the middle of your screen. This indicates that the network version of the Dynamic Data Exchange (DDE) service is loading. Once the NetDDE service loads, you’ll immediately see the Microsoft Chat window, as shown in Figure A. As you can see, this LAN-based messaging tool is a very basic application.

Figure A
As soon as the NetDDE Agent finishes loading the service, you’ll see Microsoft Chat.

Problems establishing a NetDDE connection
On some Windows 2000 installations, NetDDE is disabled by default. When this occurs, you’ll encounter an Enter Network Access Password dialog box like the one shown in Figure B when a system acting as a client attempts to connect to a system acting as a server.

Figure B
The Enter Network Access Password dialog box

No matter what username and password combination you enter, you’ll always receive an Incorrect Password critical message dialog box. This error indicates that you don’t have the right to establish a NetDDE session because the account on the server has not allowed "Access This Computer From The Network" rights.

Now, in some cases you can work around this error situation simply by clicking Cancel in the Enter Network Access Password dialog box and trying again. However, in other cases you may have to turn to a more complex operation on the system acting as the server:
  • Access the Administrative Tools folder in the Control Panel.
  • Double-click the Local Security Policy tool.
  • Access the Local Policies | User Rights Assignment folder.
  • Double-click the Access This Computer From The Network policy.
  • Make sure the Local Policy Setting check boxes next to the relevant users, domain, or group are enabled.

More information
You can find more detail about this problem in the following Microsoft Knowledge Base articles: And in the Microsoft TechNet white paper:
  • Default Access Control Settings in Windows 2000

  • Using Microsoft Chat
    Microsoft Chat is easy to use, once it’s up and running on the appropriate systems. However, keep in mind that in order to establish a connection, Microsoft Chat has to be running simultaneously on both systems that you want to establish a connection between.

    To get started, you initiate a call at either end by clicking the Dial button on the toolbar. When you do, you’ll see the Select Computer dialog box, as shown in Figure C. You can then locate and select the name of the computer on the network to which you want to establish a connection. Once you do so, you’ll see a message in the status bar indicating that the call is being made, and you’ll periodically hear the default beep sound.

    Figure C
    To make a call, just select the name of the computer to which you want to connect.

    At the other end, the default beep sound and flashing Microsoft Chat button on the taskbar will alert the user to the incoming call. The recipient can answer the call either by double-clicking the flashing Microsoft Chat button on the taskbar or by clicking the Answer An Incoming Call button on the toolbar. Either way, once a connection is made, both parties will see a Connected To message in the status bar.

    You can then begin typing messages back and forth, as shown in Figure D. The neat part about Microsoft Chat is that the communication occurs in real time. In other words, as you’re typing a message, the other person is seeing exactly what you’re typing at the exact moment that you’re typing it. Of course, there will be some latency, as with a typical phone call, but for practical purposes the communication is immediate.

    Figure D
    Once you make a connection, you can begin communicating in real time.

    When you’re finished communicating, either one of you can click the Hang Up button. You can then close Microsoft Chat.

    Creating a log
    As I mentioned, Microsoft Chat is a very basic application. As such, certain features that you might expect from a LAN-based messaging tool are missing. For example, there isn’t a built-in way of automatically saving a log file of your communication. Even so, there’s a technique that you can use to manually create a log file.

    Once you’re done communicating, you can click in either message panel, pull down the Edit menu, and choose the Select All command. When you do, you’ll see that all the text in that panel is selected. You can then copy the text to the clipboard and then paste it into a word processing application or Notepad. You’ll then have to repeat the steps in the other message panel. In other words, you’ll have to separately copy and paste each part of the conversation.

    Configuring Microsoft Chat
    If you decide that you like the communication features that Microsoft Chat brings to your remote technical support troubleshooting expeditions, you may want to take a few minutes to customize the Microsoft Chat environment.

    To begin, pull down the Options menu and select Preferences. This will bring up the Preferences dialog box, as shown in Figure E.

    Figure E
    You can configure some of Microsoft Chat’s features in the Preferences dialog box.

    As you can see, the Preferences dialog box provides two options for window layouts in the Window Style panel. The default style is to split the window horizontally—you type text in the top section of the window, and messages you receive appear in the bottom section. You can also split the window vertically to type text in the left-hand section of the window and receive messages in the right-hand section.

    In the Partner’s Message panel, you can specify whether you want to use the font and background color that you’ve chosen to display the messages you receive or to accept the font and background color that the person you’re chatting with has specified for the window. As you can see, the latter is the default setting and usually the preferred one. Once you make your choices, click OK.

    If you want to use your favorite font, pull down the Options menu and select Font. You can use the controls in the standard Font dialog box, shown in Figure F, to select the font. This font will also be used to display your message in the other person’s window—as long as they’ve left the Use Partner’s Font option button selected. Once you’ve chosen your font options, click OK.

    Figure F
    You can configure the font that you want to use for your messages.

    If you want to specify a certain background color, pull down the Options menu again and select the Background Color command. When you do, you’ll see the Color dialog box shown in Figure G. After you select a color, click OK.

    Figure G
    You can also select a background color for your messages.

    On the Options menu, you’ll find three other toggle commands—Toolbar, Status Bar, and Sound—that allow you to toggle certain features off and on. By default, they’re all enabled, and, under normal circumstances, I recommend that you leave them that way, except for sound.

    Picking the sound files
    By default, the Sound option will play simple beeps when you make or receive a call. However, there are special WAV files—Ringout.wav and Ringin.wav—that mimic the sound of a ringing telephone—the Ringout.wav files emulate the sound you hear on your phone when you’re waiting for the person to pick up, while the Ringin.wav files emulate the sound of a phone ringing when someone calls you.

    Unless you’ve chosen a special sound scheme, these two WAV files won’t be enabled. To enable them, open the Control Panel and access the Sounds and Multimedia tool. When you see the Sounds and Multimedia Properties dialog box, scroll down the Sound Events list and locate the Incoming Call and Outgoing Call events. As you do, use the controls to assign these events to their respective WAV files.

    Alternative network messaging solutions
    If you like the idea of a LAN-based messaging system for remote troubleshooting and technical support, but you’d like a more feature-rich tool than Microsoft Chat, there are other options. For example, Trusted Messenger from NotePage provides many more features than Microsoft Chat, as does Network Communication System from Softros Systems.


    About Greg Shultz

    Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

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