by January 30, 2004 0 comments



IM (Instant messaging) is recognized as being one of the killer apps of the Internet. And there is no doubt how useful it can be. The only drawback to this currently is that most users need to connect to a third party service provider like MSN, ICQ or Yahoo to get connected. 

Messaging in the corporate network can help save costs (for instance, by replacing expensive STD/ISD calls within the organization) as well as providing services such as real-time collaboration, monitoring and restricting usage and secure communication. MS Live Communications Server 2003 (LCS 2003) lets you all this easily out-of-the-box. 

LCS 2003 is a new communications server, formerly codenamed Greenwich, that has replaced the MS Exchange Conference Server. There is no equivalent version of Conference Server for Exchange 2003. However LCS not only replaces, but
enhances the experience that real time communications can give within an organization.

One
of the things that you do with Live Communications Server 2003 is to
monitor the status of all the clients 

The product requires to be installed in an Active Directory based Windows network–preferably Win 2003 based. Once installed, there are very few small settings that you need to do on the server. The first is to open up the Live Communications Server under Administrative Programs. Right-click the server name and select properties. Here you can set properties such as whether you wish to use TCP or UDP for connection, the server name and the way by which the clients connect to the server.

Once LCS is installed, it adds a new tab to the properties window for each user in the ADS. This window allows you to enable corporate messaging for each user. One very important thing to note is that the default for this setting is disabled. This means that users do not have messaging access. This is unlike MS Exchange, where the default is to enable mail for both new and existing users automatically. You can use policies for groups/OUs and enable them by default if you wish.

So how does one start using the messaging features? LCS uses an industry standard communication platform called SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) and SIMPLE (SIP for Instant Messaging & Presence Leveraging Extensions). And the client that uses this is a specially modified version of Windows Messenger 5.0 which you can download from the LCS site. Deploy this to all clients. When run, the user is prompted to select the communications protocol from among the following: .NET Passport (for using with standard MSN & Hotmail accounts), SIP (for using with LCS 2003) and Exchange (to use with the older Exchange Conferencing Server). You can select one or more from this screen. For the purpose of this article, we chose SIP. 

Once you select this, a new window pops up asking for the username, password and the domain. This is the Active Directory domain name to which the user belongs. Once logged in, the user gets the familiar interface of Windows Messenger, which he can use to add buddies–either from the corporate ADS or the Internet. In case, the client is unable to connect, you may need to cancel the connection and go to Tools>Options>Connections in the messenger. Once there, select the SIP option and enter the name of the server, either by name or IP address in the provided text box. You can also select to use TCP or UDP in this case. 

Once this is done, press the Sign In link and enter the details again. You will get connected almost instantly. Now you can actually start using the Messenger in your corporate network. To add other users, simply enter their name when prompted. For instance to add a user called Krishna Kumar, I can simply type in Krishna and Active Directory will give me a list of all Messaging-Enabled users who match. If the user you are looking for is not there, it may mean that he has not got IM rights. Once you add a user to your list, he shows up and you can initiate and respond to conversations with him.

However, Windows messenger is not the only way to collaborate using LCS 2003. In fact, if you are using MS Office System
2003, many of its applications such as Word, Excel and Outlook tie in implicitly with LCS 2003 and lets you collaborate with other people in your corporate when viewing or editing documents. 

For instance, using Word 2003, you can add team members to a particular document. Now, whenever you open this document, a task pane shows you a Windows Messenger look-alike screen but with these team members listed and their current status–online or offline. This means you can initiate a collaboration task such as IM, document or application sharing, voice or video conversation with these team members about your document from Word itself. Team members can make changes in the document, which you can approve or reject–all in real-time! 

In terms of security, all conversations (or filtered) can be archived as per company policy. This can help in monitoring and recording all activity, which can be very easily used in legal or other situations. Also, all communications can be encrypted using different encryption standards, so that even communications that take place between users who are outside you network (say, at a client’s place or in a public place like a hotel or airport) will still be secure and others on the network will not be able to peek into the conversation.

Overall, Live Communications Server 2003 is a valuable addition to any Windows corporate network. Instant messaging & conferencing are taken to a new level by addition of real-time collaboration features when using MS Office System 2003. And finally, you not only save costs and bandwidth by its usage, you can also maintain security and monitor communications in your corporate network with this.

Vinod Unny Enterprise InfoTech

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