Instant messaging is one of the earliest created network-based collaboration tools and still stands as the basis for all of the others. Pretty much every collaboration tool available on the market offers an instant messaging feature in addition to the voice, video, or screen sharing features they are most known for. However, for most instant messaging and collaboration tools, the service is hosted over the public Internet, resulting in the potential loss or theft of sensitive data or information, especially the data protected by laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA. Because of this risk, companies have looked for systems they can host within their own private network that will still offer the communications they need to conduct their business.
In this edition of Five Apps, we take a look at five instant messaging systems that are designed to be used within a private corporate network. These systems are generally client-server based (with one exception), have various feature sets, and are priced by client, by server, both, or - in one case - free.
BigAnt is a basic instant messaging system with a few additional niceties. In addition to the basic chat feature, it also offers offline messaging, group chat, and voice and video chat. Accounts can be set up manually or imported from Active Directory for easy setup. In case of audit by a regulatory body, BigAnt can log messages which the administrator can search, view, and print. The BigAnt client is able to be rebranded to show your company's logo and name. BigAnt Standard costs $299 for the server and $15.90 for each client license, which reduces with quantity. Additional features, including desktop sharing, bulletin boards, and document management are available with the Pro version.
Bopup has many of the same features as BigAnt, but it stops short at voice and video. It is capable of bulletin communications, Active Directory imports, file transfer and distribution, and they advertise that the client software works well with Citrix and Terminal Server environments. Again, message archiving is available for regulatory purposes. Bopup costs $190 for the server and $12.90 for each concurrent connection, with the client pricing reducing at certain quantities. Bopup also has a special offer for small businesses purchasing 10-20 client licenses: the server software is free.
Openfire, along with its client, Spark, is the only free, open source system on this list. It also has a small core feature set - just text chatting - but has many plugins available to extend the functionality including voice and video. Openfire is also the only server software on this list that does not run as a system service in Windows; it must be run as an application. Openfire does not link to Active Directory, nor does it have any sort of batch user creation natively (there is, however, a plugin available).
Winpopup LAN messenger is the only selection on this list where the server software is optional; the client is capable of either client-server or peer-to-peer communications. However, given the fact that the server software is free, there's no reason to limit yourself to peer-to-peer communications unless you simply do not have a machine to put it on. Because of this simplicity, Winpopup LAN Messenger simply does not have a deep feature set either. It is limited to group and one-on-one chat. Winpopup LAN Messenger is free for up to three users and then costs $14.95 per license - again, like the others, with diminishing cost breakpoints.
Have you used one of these or another enterprise instant messaging system? Share your recommendations and thoughts in the comments below.