by May 1, 2000 0 comments

Intranets
have become an integral part of every networked organization. An intranet
provides vital information to all employees through a Web browser at the
click of a button. Anyone with a Web server and browsers can have a basic
intranet up and running. However, having this alone is not sufficient today.
Providing browser-based information can only go so far. What you need is a
method of increasing interaction between your employees while sharing
information. There are two functions that can be added to your intranet for
doing this–chat and newsgroups.

Here are the essential tools
to add these functions to your intranet.

Chat servers

Chat is one
of the most popular pastimes on the Net, so much so that it can reduce
employee work efficiency within your organization. However, if used
properly, it can actually prove to be an asset. You can set up a chat
facility on your company’s intranet and give restricted access to users.
This way, you can have moderated access and keep an eye on what’s being
discussed. The information can be stored in log files for access later.

HyperChat

This is a
client/server based chat utility. You can set up the server and the client
on Win 9x or NT. It’s available on this month’s CD in the \cdrom\servers
directory. This is a ZIP file–hyperch.zip–containing both the client and
server components. Both can be up and running within minutes. Here, we’ll
take a look at how to configure the client and server utilities separately.

The server

To install
this, you need a machine with a static IP address. There’s only one
executable file that you need to run, and the server console pops up. After
this, it automatically creates two DAT files for functioning.

Once you start the chat
server, it’s ready for action without any extra configuration. Users can
connect to it and enter the public chat channel, which is open to all.

The configuration screen lets
you define the port number to which the clients can connect. It’s 6667 by
default. You can also enter a welcome message for new users. You can also
define the colors for various types of messages. For example, warnings or
errors could appear in red, system messages in green, and the regular ones
in white. You can also password protect the chat server. It minimizes and
stays in the system tray. Every time you try to open it, you’ll be
prompted to enter a password.

If you don’t want everybody
logging in, you can define specific users with passwords who’ll be allowed
in.

You aren’t restricted to
logging into a single channel. You can create multiple channels with
password protection for each. Unfortunately, the passwords appear in plain
text on the chat server. It’s therefore better to do this when nobody’s
around.

The chat server has some
pretty nifty security features. You can for example, get the IP address of a
particular user. After that, you can grant or deny access to that user. It’s
pretty handy if you find unwanted elements creating trouble in your chat
channels.

You can also block any
abusive language that users might engage in while chatting. The ones
mentioned here are of course rather mild, and are intended to convey the
message. If a user sends a message with any of these words, it doesn’t
appear on the other clients. On the server, this is indicated in red.

The client

If you’re
connecting for the first time, the client prompts you to create a connection
profile. You can create and add this profile, which gets saved in a separate
file that can always be recalled later. However, you must know the IP
address and port number of the chat server. If the chat server has already
created a profile for you, then you need to enter the password defined in
it. By default, a user enters the public channel.

The client has many advanced
options. After you’ve logged in, you can access the various channels
(provided you have access). You can, for example, view the profiles of all
the users logged in, provided they’ve entered the information.

You can enter into a private
chat with any of the users that login. This conversation will then not be
visible to anyone but the concerned parties.

You can also have some fun
while you’re chatting. You can virtually slap or kick any user in the chat
channel, and it appears in the chat window.

The client has many advanced
tools, using which you can search for a particular user in a chat channel. A
“Send file” option is also there, but it’s not fully developed
in the current version. You can, however, send a mail using the client. You
must specify an SMTP mail server that’ll be used for sending it.

Chatting Pino style

Pino is
another freeware client/server based chat utility that can be up and running
within minutes. Both the client and server can be set up on either Win 9x or
NT 4.

What you get after running
the Pino server is a small blank window. You have to first do all your
configuration and then run the chat service on it.

After running Pino, go to the
server menu and choose Options. Here, you have to configure three
parameters. First is the general tab where you have to define your chat
rooms, deny lists, etc. You can also allow only registered users to login to
the chat server from here.

The second tab is where you
create users, who’ll be able to access your chat server.

The third tab lets you set
messages for various actions that take place on a chat server.
Unfortunately, there was no documentation available with Pino, so we couldn’t
make this one work properly.

Once all the options have
been configured, the Pino server can be run. After that, the Pino clients
can start logging into it. When you run the client, you have to specify the
IP address of your chat server. After that, you can specify your nickname if
you’ve already registered, or re-register.

Once you’ve logged in, you
can see the users logged in different chat rooms. You can send personal
messages to them, or talk in public, etc.

Newsgroups à la DNews

This is a
versatile program to add newsgroups to your intranet. The program needs Win
NT 4 for installation. You must also have an SMTP server running on your
network. The server is very easy to install. In fact, we were able to post
messages to the newsgroups we created within five minutes.

The first installation screen
for DNews could give you a scare as it talks about formatting your hard
drive. However, it’s only a suggestion. Press “Continue” and the
installation wizard moves on.

If you want to have your own
personal newsgroups running within your organization, you can configure
DNews for that. You can also make it pull news from select newsgroups and
allow clients on your network to access them. This way, clients won’t have
to directly hunt for newsgroups from the Net, thus saving a lot of
bandwidth.

The entire installation
process for DNews is wizard-driven. You just have to answer questions about
your network setup, and you’re ready to go. So, you have to specify your
SMTP server, the type of newsgroups to allow access, and e-mail address of
the administrator to whom all DNews reports will be sent. You also have to
specify the subnet, which will be able to access your newsgroup server.

The newsgroup administration
interface is a small window from where you can do all your configuration. In
fact, DNews can even be uninstalled from this interface. You can go to the
Groups menu and choose “Create newsgroups”. You can also set up
moderated groups. Once this is done, your basic newsgroup setup is ready for
action. Now, you just have to open a newsgroup client like Outlook Express
and start subscribing.

Now your clients are ready to
subscribe to newsgroups that you just created. Open a newsreader client like
Outlook Express and set up a newsgroup account.

Creating newsgroup accounts
is a simple, wizard-driven process where you have to specify your name,
e-mail ID, IP address of your newsgroup server, etc.

You’ll see all the
newsgroups created with DNews here. To subscribe, double-click on them.

That’s it. You can now
start posting messages to your newsgroup and all those who’ve subscribed
will be able to see your messages.

DNews is a very powerful
newsgroup server. It has a lot of configuration options. You can create
newsgroups for different projects running within your organization, and
allow access to respective team members.

All your messages get
categorized based on message subjects. So, you can initiate a discussion
with a particular subject. All those wanting to reply, can post their views
by typing the same message subject. The help file with DNews is excellent,
and contains detailed information on everything about the program.

Sougata Das and Anil Chopra

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