On a recent consulting job, I wanted to run a few questions by a fellow computer consultant concerning a problem I was trying to solve. Like me, he’s always online, and we’re both on Windows Messenger. So I got out my laptop, connected it to the client’s network, which had a DSL connection, and launched Windows Messenger. Sure enough, my colleague was online and we began exchanging information.

While I was in the midst of this online collaboration, my client’s office manager popped by to see how things were going. As I provided an update on the job, I explained that I was working through some questions with a colleague via Windows Messenger. The office manager was intrigued by the idea of instant messaging and asked me whether I thought Windows Messenger could be used as an intraoffice communication tool. She said that there are a lot of communication situations in their office where sending instant messages would be a great alternative to using the phone or e-mail.

I agreed that instant messaging was a great tool and said that although using Windows Messenger as an intraoffice communication tool was indeed possible, I would recommend using an in-house instant messaging system to avoid spam and other outside interference. I then told her I would do some investigation and get back to her later.

My investigations led me to a product called PopMessenger from LeadMind Development. The product had received great reviews and had all the necessary features, and once I began testing PopMessenger, I found that it was easily implemented. I’ve since rolled out PopMessenger at several client sites and have had positive feedback on both the software and the benefits of using instant messaging as an intraoffice communication tool. I figured my IT Consultant colleagues would be interested in learning about PopMessenger, too. Maybe you’ll decide that it’s the perfect solution for some of your clients.

A quick overview
PopMessenger is compatible with all versions of the Windows operating system. It requires only that all computers are on the same network or accessible via RAS or VPN connection and that all are running the TCP/IP protocol. Best of all, PopMessenger is a peer-to-peer solution, so there’s no dedicated server to configure.

PopMessenger provides a host of features designed to enhance intraoffice communications. To begin with, in addition to sending private messages to a single person, you can send broadcast messages to everyone or specific groups of people. PopMessenger’s Groups feature allows you to assign people to custom groups based on departments, teams, special projects, and so on.

Of course, you’re not going to be available to receive messages all of the time. To help you deal with those situations when you’re occupied and can’t, or don’t want to, receive instant messages, PopMessenger provides three additional user status options besides the default Available setting: Away, Do Not Disturb, and Offline. Furthermore, you can create customized auto-responses for each of your unavailable status options.

If the person you want to communicate with is unavailable, you can send what is called an Offline Message, which will be delivered as soon as the person becomes available. There’s also a history list that allows you to keep track of all your past communications.

If you need to quickly share a file with the person you’re communicating with, you can do so easily with PopMessenger’s file transfer feature. And if you want to share confidential information, there’s no need to worry—PopMessenger uses real-time message encryption.

Downloading and installing
You can download PopMessenger from the LeadMind Web site. When you do, you’ll receive a fully functional trial version you can use for 21 days. Of course, you’ll see a registration reminder, which reports how many days you have left on your evaluation, each time you run the program. After the 21-day period expires, you must purchase the program. You’ll then receive a registration code via e-mail, which will allow you to continue using the program.

You can purchase from one to five licenses for PopMessenger for $11.95 each. Discounts are available for larger quantities, and there’s even a site licensing program that will allow you to install PopMessenger on any number of computers. For more details on the pricing structure, see the order page on the LeadMind Web site. The online order system is handled by two shareware registrations services: RegNow and Share-It, both of which are protected by VeriSign. Once you download PopMessenger, you’ll end up with an executable installation file. Just double-click the file and you’ll see a Setup dialog box that prompts you to begin the installation procedure.

Taking a tour
When you launch PopMessenger, it displays a Tip Of The Day window, which I’ve discovered is a cool feature to have on hand when introducing novices to using instant messaging as a new communications tool. Although there are only a few tips in the default configuration, you can add tips by editing the PopMessenger.tip file, a plain text file located in the installation folder.

Once you dismiss the Tip Of The Day window, you’ll see the PopMessenger window, shown in Figure A. As you can see, the main portion of this window shows all the connected users. This list is automatically updated every two minutes or when you click the Refresh List button.

Figure A
The PopMessenger window shows all the connected users.

To send a message, you simply click a name on the list. A Message To window will appear and you can begin typing your message, as shown in Figure B.

Figure B
Once the Message To window appears, you can begin typing your message.

After you finish typing, click the Send button. When the recipient replies, you’ll see his or her message, as well as your original message, as shown in Figure C. To respond, just click the Reply button.

Figure C
When the recipient replies, you’ll see his or her message and your original message.

If the icon next to the name of the person you want to communicate with indicates that they are offline, such as the one for Thomas in Figure A, you can click the Menu button and select the Send Offline Message command. You’ll then create an offline message, as shown in Figure D, and send it to the recipient. In this case, as soon as Thomas changes his user status back to Available, he’ll receive the message.

Figure D
You can create and send an offline message to anyone who is currently unavailable.

To change your status, simply click the Status button at the bottom of the main window and select an option from the menu shown in Figure E.

Figure E
Changing your status is a simple operation.

To send a broadcast message to everybody, just press [F6] to open the Broadcast Message dialog box. Type your message, as shown in Figure F, and click the Send button.

Figure F
When you want to convey a message to everyone at the same time, send a broadcast message.

Transferring files is as easy as right-clicking on a person’s name in the list, selecting the Send File command, and filling in the Sending File dialog box, as shown in Figure G. When you click the Send File(s) button, the recipient receives a prompt to accept the file. As soon as the recipient accepts it, the file transfer commences.

Figure G
PopMessenger makes it easy to quickly share files with your colleagues.

At any time, you can press [Ctrl]H to bring up the Messages History window, shown in Figure H. The tabs allow you to quickly locate messages you’ve sent, as well as those you’ve received.

Figure H
The Messages History window allows you to keep track of your communications.

Don’t forget the training
Now that you have a pretty good idea of how PopMessenger works, chances are you’ve thought of a few clients who might benefit from this type of communications tool. However, it’s important to keep in mind when you roll out PopMessenger that for many folks, instant messaging is unfamiliar territory—not only from a how-to-use-the-software standpoint but also from a how-to-use-instant-messaging-as-a-communications-tool standpoint. So you’ll need to conduct some sort of office-wide training that covers both of these facets.

Trust me here. The last thing you want to do is promote intraoffice messaging as the neatest thing since sliced bread and tell your client that it will save time and money, only to receive a phone call from your client several weeks later saying that the thing was a waste of money because no one is using it.

On the client site I mentioned in the introduction, I was lucky because it was a relatively small company and everyone there was computer literate and familiar with instant messaging. For the second client, a handful of people just didn’t quite get the gist of instant messaging. These folks would be doing things like setting their status to Offline and then either forgetting to change it back to Available or staying Offline on purpose so they’d never be disturbed. Others would simply exit the program first thing in the morning and never launch it again. Since half the folks weren’t using it, it was useless to everyone else, so they stopped using it too.

Once I conducted some training sessions using examples taken from their day-to-day business environment, and after I highlighted the benefits, things began to change. I also spent some time developing a whole slew of custom tips and added them to the Tip Of The Day feature. That also helped, and soon everyone was willingly and effectively using PopMessenger.